This retelling of the legendary Egyptian monarch's story opens when she is "three years old and she cannot speak even one sentence of passable Greek." All the familiar aspects of her life unfold—with an emphasis on palace intrigues, royal excesses and scheming courtiers—but Essex also highlights the young princess's prodigious talents for language, adventure and politics. In contrast to many authors who wish to humanize Kleopatra and focus only on her life as a woman, Essex chooses to explore her subject's absolute dedication to the political intrigues of her time, and her connection to Greek culture (hence the unusual spelling of her name). While the framework is familiar, her rendering of the ancient world's culture and political machinations make this fast-paced treatment of Kleopatra's adventures particularly engaging. Exhaustive research is evident throughout, in the form of intriguing minutiae such as a list of the exotic dishes at a banquet or meticulous descriptions of astounding displays during a pageant in honor of Dionysus. When Kleopatra's father, Ptolemy XII Auletes, is exiled to Rome, the young princess accompanies him, both literally and figuratively leaving behind her childhood in preparation for ruling Egypt. When she returns, she is named co-regent with her father, who dies shortly thereafter. She marries her half-brother and eventually raises an army with her cousin and lover, Archimedes. This volume ends with the young queen in exile, waiting for Julius Caesar; a sequel is in the works. Essex delivers a consistent and historically accurate reading of Kleopatra, and even those who think they know the queen will discover new facets of her life that will engage both the intellect and the senses. (Aug. 9)
Forecast:Cleopatra junkies will snatch this up, but a captivating jacket and title should attract ancient-world neophytes, too.
Release date: 08/01/2001