Cleopatra VII (The Royal Diaries) by Kristiana Gregory
This is the first book I’ve read from “The Royal Diaries” series. If you’ve read books from the “American Girl” series or, better yet, the “Dear America” (“My Name is America”) series, you will be right at home with the format. This ‘diary’ of Cleopatra’s early teen years, is, of course historical fiction. The author, Kristiana Gregory has taken some known historical fact and mixed it with what she imagines a young princess in ancient Egypt would do and think.
As the diary tells it, Cleopatra flees Egypt with her father, Ptolemy XII, when enemies threaten his life (a puff adder, a poison snake, is set in his room and his wine is also poisoned.) Once in Rome, seeking the protection and military help of Caesar, the two find out that Cleopatra’s oldest sister has taken over the throne and later has been strangled. The second sister then takes over. Cleopatra herself is third in line to be pharaoh, but she is certain she would be a better ruler than her shallow sister, whose heart is more concerned with jewelry. However, she also fears that her father could have her killed if he suspects that she wants to usurp his authority. From this point forward, the diary tells of events back in Egypt and those in Rome as father and daughter wait for Rome’s help and the good weather required for a return trip to Alexandria.
Many of the details here bring the ancient world to life. The filth and stench that ordinary people had to deal with on a daily basis is an eye opener. There is much of interest that can be researched—what about the Alexandrian Great Library? Or the 400-foot-high Pharos Lighthouse, considered one of the wonders of the ancient world? Did Cicero make those speeches indicating that Rome should not help Egypt? Did Cleopatra really learn several languages with ease? Did she actually have a pet leopard (a character in this book)? Was Ptolemy XII, Cleopatra’s father, truly an alcoholic?
The interaction between Cleopatra and Marc Antony sets up the future romance between them. You should read the historical note at the end of the novel to see how their relationship turns out. The illustrations at the end are also interesting and enlightening.