[Book Review] Cleopatra VII: Daughter of the Nile, Egypt, 57 B.C. by Kristiana Gregory

While her father is in hiding after attempts on his life, twelve- year-old Cleopatra records in her diary how she fears for her own safety and hopes to survive to become Queen of Egypt some day.

I'm stunned by how much I hated this. It's a huge collection of entirely baffling writing decisions playing out across what must be one of the least interesting periods of an interesting historical figure's life. In this novel, Gregory has no qualms about spicing up history to make it overly dramatic (no, there's no evidence that Cleopatra had a leopard; no, her father didn't deliver her sister's head to her on a silver platter???) while making other strangely provocative and problematic plot choices including:

A) bizarre sexual subtext that will hopefully go over a young reader's head while being incredibly inappropriate if it is understood (a fifteen-year-old girl is sentenced to exile or stoning for defending herself against a man whose lawyer successfully argued in court that she was a whore who deserved to be attacked; Cleopatra being subject to "very rude pinching" in public that she apparently feels she deserves because she's dressed as a "common girl"; Cleopatra wondering who her father will pick as her husband, only for the book to end just shy of the reveal that her husband will be her brother, who I think was like five or six at the time.)

B) turning Cleopatra into a monotheist (She explicitly considers Nefertiti, whose husband tried to make Egypt monotheistic, a role model while being unrealistically knowledgeable and bizarrely curious about Judiasm and early Christianity.)

C) normalizing slavery* (It's everywhere in the novel, from Cleopatra's "just happy to help" slaves to Arsinoe's recurring demands that her older family members kidnap and enslave children to be her playmates, which Cleopatra treats as a minor annoyance only to be occasionally indulged; but don't worry, Cleopatra's not a bad guy because she feels slightly uncomfortable when she sees other people abusing their slaves... as if all slavery isn't fucking abuse.)

*And before some jackass shows up to scream about historical accuracy: yeah, bro, I get it. Egyptian society was built upon slave labor, and it didn't have the strict racism of America slavery. Leaving slavery entirely out of a book about historic Egypt would also be shitty. But this is a book for fucking children, so let's maybe not present slavery as something that doesn't deserve a quick, "Just so you know, this is fucking horrific?"

D) and, worst of all, normalizing pedophilia (WHY choose to have a scene of Marc Antony making out with fourteen-year-old Cleopatra when some historical evidence suggests they didn't even meet until she was in her twenties and nothing suggests that they had any sexual relationship while she was a child???)

On top of all there, I have to point out the suspect reasoning behind choosing to present Cleopatra as an 100% ethnically Greek girl (still subject to racist colorism with comments about her skin "turning dark like a commoner's" from sun exposure) instead of presenting her as the mixed race woman that she very well might have been. (The book presents her as fair-skinned and dark-haired. Her partially unknown ethnicity and the fact that she could have been dark-skinned, dark-eyed, and dark-haired is presented in the nonfiction epilogue section after the narrative ends, though this section also feels the need to point out that her ambiguous ethnic origins mean she could have been a green-eyed blonde girl, which, like the rest of this, is just fucking bizarre. Like, yeah, she technically could have been, but it's so fucking unlikely that it's weird as shit to bring it up??)

I'm just thoroughly baffled by each and every decision in this book, and I am very pleased that it was such a short read. Any longer, and I'd have just given up on it. In any case, I definitely won't be reading this one again, and I would not recommend that anyone give this book to a child. There are so many Cleopatra books in the world, and I guarantee that a wealth of them are better than this. They must be.


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