Syrupy, plodding novel with plenty of treacle

Apr 29, 2001
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Well-researched, detailed, historical novel that doesn't lie too much.

Cons:Heavy, too-padded, where was the editor on this one?

The Bottom Line: Good if you really have nothing else to do, and you've got a week to waste.


Read some fluff, lay off the heavy stuff for a while, that's what an advisor told me. Try to cheer yourself up. I thought this book would do the trick, and dug it up for a reread.

Boy, was I wrong.

If a book can give one indigestion, this is it. Normally I happily read any sort of book on the ancient world that falls my way, and after reading Colleen McCullough's magnificent series on Ancient Rome and the rise of Julius Caesar, I'm a junky for anything about him. So I thought this book would satisfy the cravings.

Nope. Not here.

The plot and details are laid on with a heavy hand, with ever increasing foreshadowings of doom. The story is told from a first person account, written down as Cleopatra faces her date with a snake. Now whether it's an asp or Octavian, I'll leave it up to you.

And with most over-bloated historicals, this one starts with our Beautiful Young Heroine (tm) in early childhood, favorite of her daddy, and the envious target of her ugly, cold, or bratty (take your pick) siblings. Then the Romans come to Egypt, first Pompey, then Caesar himself, and as soon as the ides of March happen, then Mark Antony gets involved with the enchanting Cleopatra.

What I found to be the most difficult to cope with in this retelling of the story is the author's excessive padding and minutiae. It's lovely if you have the time to waste reading the book, or you don't know the story of Cleopatra. Because the story of the very last Pharaoh of Egypt is a fascinating read of a woman who took on the world in a time when women were invisible and very nearly won. On her own terms. In her own way.

Over the centuries, Cleopatra has been portrayed as a scheming, diabolical woman, using her wiles and cunning to seduce poor hapless men and bring about their downfall. Other stories have her as an unfortunate victim of powerful men, ultimately loosing her life, children and power because she loved with her whole heart, and didn't have sense to get out of the situation until it was too late.

The truth probably lies somewhere in between these two extremes. My greatest fault with this novel is that it is simply too long, and drawn out, and by the end I was thinking, "GET ON WITH IT! Where's that snake?"

Worth reading once, but not a second time.


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