REVIEW: Cleopatra’s Heir by Gillian Bradshaw
The might and power of Julius Caesar, the man who conquered the known world. The beauty of Cleopatra, the woman who conquered the conqueror. Together they could have forged an empire whose power had never been seen before. Tragically, it was not meant to be. But what of the son who was born of their passion?
Gillian Bradshaw gives us a possible answer in Cleopatra’s Heir, a riveting historical novel drawn from meticulous research and a unique historical premise. The young son of Julius Caesar and the fabled Cleopatra, Caesarion was seen by some as the hope of the marriage between Rome and Egypt, by others as the folly of a commander’s lust for a wanton foreign schemer. For the new Roman ruler, Octavius, Caesarion is the threat that could topple his dreams of a safe and peaceful Roman Empire.
The brutal truth is that Caesarion could not be allowed to live. But what if he somehow managed to survive the inevitable assassination and went underground to hide his identity? How would he find a way to live when he has always chosen and honor, even though his life has been shadowed by forces greater than anyone should have to cope with?
Caesarion will travel the lands that he thinks he knows so well only to discover that he knew his people not at all. And only after that discovery, when he loses it all and is forced to confront his humanity, will Caesarion finally come to know friendship, honesty, and love.
And the essential truth that a man can be noble and true, bereft of land, titles . . . and even a name.
Dear Ms. Bradshaw,
I’m slowly but surely working my way through your historical novels and since this one has gotten several mentions in the comments on past reviews, and it’s available as an ebook, here I am trying it. Poor Caesarion got a raw deal in history; famous mother, famous father but he died young because of that and the fact that due to those famous bloodlines, he couldn’t be allowed to live as a threat to Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus. Or could he?
Caesarion is presented to us initially as an arrogant little snot without the oomph to back up his attitude. He’s also shown as a young man, barely eighteen, who has been protected and fawned on his whole life. Let’s face it, as the son of the ruler of Egypt and the Big Man of Rome, he hasn’t had to work for much but has also never been given much responsibility. He’s about to get a wake up call as his world comes crashing down around him. Egypt has become a Roman province, his mother is dead and Caesarion knows a target is now painted on him. If he’s not at his best, he does have legitimate reasons.
In the character of Ani, we see the class differences between Caesarion – a Greek and a Royal – and the native Egyptians who are despised already by Greeks and are now bracing themselves for Roman rule. Will things get worse, stay the same – who knows? The Roman military officials Ani and Arion have come in contact with all tout Octavian’s decision to grant clemency and Ani tentatively continues to make plans to attempt to expand his import and export business. That’s where he can use Arion’s knowledge of Alexandria and how to be a gentleman.
Arion at first despises the fact that he owes Ani – an almost illiterate Egyptian camel caravan owner. But Arion’s sense of honor won’t allow him to just leave without discharging the debt. He’s also puzzled by the close family life Ani enjoys and the esteem with which Ani is held by his community. Arion’s never been given anything without something being expected in return nor has he ever trusted many people – one couldn’t at the Royal court. Ani’s thirst for knowledge impresses Arion as well – a thirst shared by Ani’s pretty, intelligent daughter who has no hesitation in yanking a knot in this arrogant young man she feels looks down on her papa.
Arion is the titular character and most of the action focuses on him. He first appears as exactly what he’s been raised to be: a King with no powers born of a ruthless woman who aimed to conquer but who never treated her son as much more than a tool and symbol. Arion has to be broken down into tiny bits before he can put himself back together as a man worthy of true love and admiration. Before he had been fawned on because of his birth; after he is respected because of what he has done and accomplished. Since Rome has already conquered Egypt, the battles in the book are mainly internal for Arion who learns from the mistakes made by his mother.
As is the norm I’ve discovered in your books, the romance here is quiet and almost sneaks in. Melanthe certainly sees Arion at his worst but also at his best when he uses his intelligence and courtier skills to save the day. And he has the knowledge that she loves him for himself instead of the rank he was born with. If he’s a little slow in the end to give himself up to the relationship, he did have a bad day and must come to terms with how he avoided death. Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus might have decided clemency is the best path but he’s not above extracting his emotional pound of flesh in the process.
Though Caesarion most probably did die in 30 BCE, because it was dangerous to have too many Caesars, this is a well done “what if” trip down a different path for him. B