Gillian Bradshaw - Cleopatra's Heir

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Gillian Bradshaw's Cleopatra's Heir: fictional, but still interesting tale of 'what if...?'

Sep 12, 2002
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:As always, Bradshaw does her research.

Cons:Still rather bland, geared more for the young adult/older teen market.

The Bottom Line: Interesting tale, but I was hoping that it would be about Cleopatra's daughter, not son.


Historical fiction has always interested me. I heard about this one, and when I was working the otehr night, decided to pick it up. Epinons, please note, the title of the book is not The Caesarion, but rather Cleopatra's Heir.

An awful lot of ink has been used on that Queen of long ago Egypt, Cleopatra VII, both in fiction and non-fiction. She's been the subject of quite a few films, including one of the most bloated epics on film, and two of Shakespeare's plays feature here.

Would it surprise you to learn that Cleopatra had four children by Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony? This novel takes up the premise that her son by Julius Caesar survived an assassination attempt by Octavius (who was Caesar's legal and Roman heir), and managed to find help in the deserts of Egypt.

Wounded, and recovering from an epileptic fit, young Caesarion wakes on his own funeral pyre, and manages to escape. Only eighteen, and without friends or money, he hears of his mother and step-father's suicides, and decides to keep fighting on his own, determined not to see Egypt become a Roman province. Rescued by a native Egyptian, Ani, young Caesarion (or Arion, as he calls himself now), learns that being royal isn't everything that he thinks it is, and that trust is a hard lesson to learn.

It's a great coming-of-age story. While Caesarion is a bit of a homesick and pompous prig at times, I found the characters of Ani and his family to be the most entertaining. The family that takes him in, including a vibrant and rather lovely young woman, Melanthe, are the best things about this novel. Caught between two cultures, they live on the fringes of society, keeping ahold of their own religion and language but still loosing some ground to the invaders.

However -- and this is why it only gets three stars -- the plot is typical of most coming of age novels. There's betrayals, escapes in the nick of time, and the ending is the requisite happy one. It might not be at all factual, but considering that the real Caesarion died at a tragically young age, it's a nice 'what if' tale.

Bradshaw's style here is simplistic, and not full of the dynamic fireworks that might be found in the novels geared for more mature audiences. It would make excellent reading for the high school student who's interested in ancient Roman and Egyptian culture. What I really enjoyed on this one is that she included some notes on her subject, and explained how and why she changed the main character to fit in with her ideas and plot, which I found to be entirely believeable.


Recommend this product? Yes


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