Finished: Apr. 28, 2009
First Published: Mar. 23, 2009
Genre: historical fantasy
Reason for Reading: Received a review copy from the publisher.
In twilight I approached the doors, and in twilight they stood open for me.
Comments: This is the story of Cleopatra told through the eyes of her sisterly handmaiden. Born just months apart, it is the story of three sisters, all of whom have the same Pharaoh as a father. One of them, had the first Queen as her mother while the other two were born from the Pharaoh's harem. The two sisters of the harem are given to Cleopatra as handmaidens when they are five years old to be playmates for her and to attend studies with the princess who is a forgotten third daughter of the dead first Queen. The girls spend their childhood banished to a Temple Island and when they come back Cleopatra is the new Pharaoh. The book continues through the period of Julius Caesar, then Mark Anthony and finally the fateful death of Cleopatra and her two handmaidens by snakebite.
The book is told through the eyes of the youngest sister, Charmian, as she describes her life in relation to Cleopatra's. The first part of the book when the sister's are children growing up on the island together was good reading and a great start to the book. One got to know each of the three girls quite well, though of course Charmian's character stood out the most. As the girl's became adults and moved back to Alexandria, Charmian's secondhand view of Cleopatra really filtered down her character and the third sister all but disappeared from the main plot making the story revolve around Charmian. This is unfortunate because at this time Charmian's life becomes graphically s*xual and from this point on there are many elements of the book that didn't appeal to me at all.
Jo Graham's first book Black Ships was stellar (you can read my review here) and I was disappointed not to have enjoyed this one very much. The fantasy element of the book, while not being much in the way of fantasy was quite intriguing. The book starts with Charmian being dead as she enters the Egyptian Underworld to have her heart weighed on the scales against a feather. Here she meets Thoth and Isis and other Egyptians gods. Essentially the book is her telling her life story to the gods to see whether the goodness in her heart outweighs the evil. Every so often during the novel we would switch back to these interludes of Charmian in the Underworld.
Unfortunately, the graphic s*xual nature of the book and the elements therein were too much for my own conservative nature and I can not recommend the book. However others have enjoyed the book and you can find some positive reviews at these blogs:
Fyrefly's Book Blog
Tanzanite's Shelf and Stuff