Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Review: Song of the Nile by Stephanie Dray

Song of the Nile by Stephanie Dray
Release Date: October 4, 2011
Publisher: Berkley Trade/Penguin
Pages: 416
Series: Cleopatra's Daughter #2
Received: ARC from author
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf
Goodreads Page

There are NO major spoilers in this review, but if I mention a character, then you can kind of figure out that they didn't die in the first book.

Really worried? Click here to read my review of the first book, Lily of the Nile instead!


From Goodreads:

Sorceress. Seductress. Schemer. Cleopatra's daughter is the one woman with the power to destroy an empire...

Having survived her perilous childhood as a royal captive of Rome, Selene pledged her loyalty to Augustus and swore she would become his very own Cleopatra. Now the young queen faces an uncertain destiny in a foreign land.

The magic of Isis flowing through her veins is what makes her indispensable to the emperor. Against a backdrop of imperial politics and religious persecution, Cleopatra's daughter beguiles her way to the very precipice of power. She has never forgotten her birthright, but will the price of her mother's throne be more than she's willing to pay?


Fire up the Delorean

Song of the Nile picks up right where Lily of the Nile left off and I was immediately sucked back into Selene's world. I don't know whether it is Selene's captivating first person narrative or if it is Stephanie Dray's meticulous attention to detail, but rarely have I been so thoroughly absorbed in a book as I was with this series.

I could clearly picture everything Selene saw, taste what she ate, and feel what she felt. I felt like I was growing and changing along with Selene as she developed as a mother and a ruler.

At one point, I was so into what I was reading that I actually angrily cursed a character who was INFURIATING me for the way they were treating Selene. It was totally an involuntary reaction, and I cursed them vehemently...and, erm, out loud (that was an interesting reaction to explain because I was NOT alone when that happened. But luckily I was not at work, either).

I am so proud of you!

Selene's growth was tremendous, and while she matured a lot in Lily of the Nile, she still had a long way to go. Song of the Nile sees her finally breaking the shackles of her past and becoming the mighty woman I knew she could be. I am so proud of her.

But Selene's triumph comes late in the book and the time leading up to that is filled with delicious tension (oh my gosh--white knuckled, PLEASE THAT CAN'T HAPPEN! kind of tension!). The game of political chess Selene engaged in with Octavian in Lily of the Nile continues in Song of the Nile, but the stakes are higher. Selene's position is significantly more powerful than it was, but instead of adding security that only elevated the danger.

Like her mother before her, Selene uses her sexuality as a weapon and a snare. However, Selene is not simply another version of Cleopatra. She is both like and unlike her mother, and this internal struggle over following in her mother's footsteps or finding her own path takes a more prominent role in Song of the Nile. Selene's struggle to find herself and the right path for her--despite the expectations of others, resonated strongly with me.

A note on the historical accuracy

This is historical fiction, but it is not a straight restatement of events. Many of the events did happen, however, after looking into Selene's history a little (and reading the author's note), it seems like documentation of Selene's life is pretty sparse.

The more specific things Selene does in Song of the Nile are not backed up by history (as far as my very limited research shows), but they are not contradicted either. We just don't know. So could Selene have engaged in intense political and personal sparring with Octavian? Possibly.

Even more important (to me) is that Stephanie Dray wove in her fiction with reality in such a way that her fiction enhances and explains the gaps in what we know of the historical facts while staying true to the spirit and personalities of the historical players. Her characterizations of the Roman characters, especially through what would have likely been Selene's perspective, seems spot on to me.


Whoa baby! Everything I was hoping would happen did happen. Remember, this is an upper YA/Adult book.

And I'll just leave it at that.

Bottom line

There is another book planned, but Song of the Nile ends perfectly and more isn't necessary to make the story feel complete (but more is totally welcome!)

I really hope Stephanie Dray continues to write historical fiction because she is now solidly on my (very short) list of favorite historical fiction writers. I am left breathless by her powerhouse combination of tangible world building, historical reverence, fluid writing, and incredible character depth. More, please?

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Song of the Nile that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Stay tuned tomorrow for a guest post by Stephanie Dray and a chance to win your own copy of Song of the Nile!

Looking for another book like this? 
You might like: 

Click on the covers to go to my reviews.

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  1. I'm glad you liked this one. It was way too intense for me. I will have to look at your review of The Alexandrian.

  2. It was very intense. Unfortunately I don't have a review of The Alexandrian since I read it before I blogged, but it is SO good. It's very much like this series and Cleopatra has a very strong, likable voice.

  3. So I didn't read the review because I don't want to know if anyone dies in the first book. Especially since this one was so good! I am so going to get the first one. I love books like this!

  4. The first book is on my TBR. I'll have to get to it soon - these sound awesome!

  5. *grins*
    I love reading your reviews when you like a book!

    I'm so glad you liked it so much!

  6. I have this one to read and I can't wait to have time to read it. I delved in a little and it just grabs you right away. I had to hide it from myself so I'd do my other work first. I'm so glad it got your approval! Yay!


  7. I'll have to get this book soon. Sounds like an awesome read.

  8. Jen, haha good call :) I really can't wait to see what you think of it. Especially Helios.

    Leanna, I hope you like it! They're probably among my favorite historical fiction books ever.

    Alex, :D I LOVED it.

    Heather, It really does completely sweep you away. I totally lost track of time when I was reading these books. Some books I'm always looking at the clock or my page number, but not with these books.

    Little Dhampir, I loved it. Just make sure you read Lily of the Nile first :)

  9. So I was super impressed by what I read of the first book. But, like Bergren's series, I'm now all hopped up on excitement to read this. It sounds exciting, dangerous, and sexy. Which, of course, are some of my favorite elements! I'm so picking up this series! This can be found in local libraries, right?

    - Asher (from Paranormal Indulgence)

  10. Oooh you read part of the first book? Nice! Why did you stop? In my opinion it is exactly how you describe it :) I read Lily of the Nile from my library. Berkley is a big name publisher (it's an imprint of Penguin), so you probably have a good chance of finding it in your local library.

  11. I hope you don't mind my poking my nose in to thank you for the lovely review, but I have to know...what moment was it that made you curse at the characters! ;)

  12. I don't mind at all! Thank you for stopping by :)

    The scene was chapter 21, and it was the last line on page 216 that made me curse out loud. She had been through so much and the ultimatum was probably the cruelest thing he could have done. If I were a nail biter, my poor nails would have been bitten down to the quick as I frantically read on to see what Selene would do.

    There was a lot of internal cursing going on, too, and sobbing. I'm an emotional reader and you are a very evocative writer. :)

  13. Oh, I was cussing him out while writing that scene too ;) Also, I must be a bad person, because I can't say I regret making you cry.

    Thanks so much for the kind words! It's always exciting to hear which scenes really hit the reader hard.

  14. Haha, that's not you being a bad person. That's you being an AWESOME author!


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