October 29, 2015

Cleopatra's Shadows. Emily Holleman

book cover
Cleopatra's Shadows
Emily Holleman
Published: Sphere/Hachette NZ
Date: 13th October 2015
Format: Paperback ARC
Genre: Historical Ficton
Source: Hachette NZ
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This is the story of Berenice and Arsinoe, sisters of Cleopatra.  Ptolemy their father and Cleopatra have left Egypt after Berenice has seized power.

Arsinoe is eight, almost nine, when they leave. She feels abandoned by the sister she adores. She does not feel valued by her father, and as they leave she is thrown on the mercy of her half sister Berenice. Her maid and her eunuch Ganymedes are a mainstay in these uncertain times.  She is allowed to live, Bernice shows mercy to her despite the suggestion by Bernice's mother that she is being soft. Arsinoe is a child, a scholar, living on her wits in uncertain times. Her visions and dreams haunt her, ones of violence and death.

Berenice has been crowned queen, she has been jealous of her sister Cleopatra, as it is she who their father Ptolemy favours. She feels a deep sense of being overlooked and empty within. As the story opens she has managed to gain power - but for how long? She cannot be certain of anyone and the danger of those around her betraying her is always a threat. While highly focussed on her goal, she is cold and relentless, yet there are times of vulnerability and mercy. When courage is needed, she faces into what needs to be faced. She has two husbands, both different, both married for the same reasons.

I have been very ignorant of this historical period, yes I had heard of Cleopatra but that is all. What a major dysfunctional family! Brothers married sisters, it was highly accepted and even politically recommended.  Abandonment and power struggles, murder and fear seems to have been prevalent. I kept thinking I was so happy never to have been born in that time period!

I went online to read more about these two half sisters, what I read checked out with the book. Yes I also wanted to find out what happened to them before I finished the book! Naturally it is fiction, the feelings and interactions imagined, but in a very believable way. It is extremely well written and drew me in.

Readers who enjoy historical fiction and especially that of Ancient Egypt will I am sure thoroughly enjoy the drama and intrigue of Cleopatra's Shadows.

4 stars


  1. Oh I read a post by this author recently. Intriguing

  2. This time period sounds interesting.

  3. Gorgeous cover! Thanks for sharing...I do want to know more now.

  4. oh this looks deep, i have learned a few things about this time period but i also know i enjoy it.

  5. That is really fascinating...this isn't a book that speaks to me...yet...but you never know!

  6. Kathryn, if you want to read a great Non-fiction that reads like fiction read Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra. I was Blown Away!
    Great review and I know ewwwww about the "close families" :)

    1. Will check out that book Stacy. Although mind you history is not my thing!

  7. I've been fascinated with ancient Egypt since I was at school and Michelle Moran and Stephanie Dray have fed that fascination. I wasn't aware of this one til seeing it on your blog. Thanks for the great review Kathryn, it's going straight on my wishlist.

    1. It is a debut novel. Not sure if I mentioned that. I don't see it in my local shop, but Hachette Au most likely had it too.

  8. Sounds fascinating. I liked Michelle Moran's novel, Cleopatra's Daughter. I don't know much about Cleopatra beyond Hollywood depictions and what was mentioned of her life in that novel. I didn't know she had an older sister who ruled first! I was aware of the whole creepy sibling marriage thing from Ancient Egypt. I've heard that inspired George R.R. Martin when he wrote about the Targaryens (who also practiced sibling marriage).


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