Lily of the Nile
I love lots of variety not only in romance, but in historical fiction in general. Lily of the Nile originally caught my eye because of its Egyptian heroine and Roman setting, but the author’s vision of a very faraway time and place kept me reading. Cleopatra Selene is an intelligent narrator and watching her grow up and reinvent herself following the death of her parents and her own captivity in Rome makes for compelling reading.
The story opens in the aftermath of Cleopatra and Mark Antony’s defeat by Rome. Mark Antony has died and Cleopatra will kill herself rather than submit to Roman captivity. Not so her children. Selene and her brothers Helios and Philadelphus travel to Rome as captives and must endure a humiliating march through the city, not knowing what will happen to them. In a dramatic scene, Octavian (who will later become Augustus Caesar) spares the children and places them under the control of his sister Octavia, where they will be raised alongside the various children of his household.
The adjustment does not go smoothly. Selene desperately misses Egypt and her mother, and she cannot even worship Isis because her religion has been banned by Octavian. Nevertheless, Selene starts to make friends among the children and the children’s tutor, Juba, himself a deposed prince, shows an interest in her as well. However, Octavian’s household is not exactly the stuff of of wholesome, nostalgic children’s books. Intrigue abounds, as those who favor the worship of Isis or who simply wish to see the old rulers restored in Egypt view Selene and her brothers as symbols of hope and try to contact them. In addition, Octavian’s wife and sister very clearly loathe each other and this leads to yet another layer of scheming as the two struggle for power. One would have to be quite clever to survive in this world, and the author shows Selene as a bright and adaptable heroine able to fit into her new life with some degree of success.
The historical and religious backgrounds of the story make the author’s world quite a vivid one. Not only do readers learn much about Selene, her brothers, and the household in which they find themselves, but because of who Selene is, we see much about the religion of Isis. The story has a touch of the mystical to it as Selene and her brothers have been blessed with various gifts. However, these are worked smoothly into the book rather than making it appear over-the-top or unbelievable. After all, the Romans lived in a more superstitious age where people believed more readily in the supernatural and the various paranormal-tinged events in this book simply comport with the types of things that people of another age believed could happen. In addition, readers get to watch the rise of Octavian/Augustus Caesar as Emperor and at times I felt like I really did have a window into another time.
While I greatly enjoyed reading this book, I have a few quibbles with it. At times, the action in the middle of the book dragged a little when, given the nature of the events, I would have expected it to be less languid. In addition, I kept getting the feeling that readers are meant to see Helios rebelling against Rome as opposed to Selene learning to adjust to it, but Helios came across as a spoiled child more than anything else which made his character a difficult one for which to have sympathy.
However, even with these fairly minor issues, Lily of the Nile is a good read. Though the book has references to romance and marriage, it is primarily historical fiction, as well as a coming of age story. The publisher markets it as adult fiction, but this would be a good young adult pick as well.