Page-turning historical fiction that reimagines the beginnings of Cleopatra's epic saga through the eyes of her younger sister.
Before Caesar and the carpet, before Antony and Actium, before Octavian and the asp, there was Arsinoe.
Abandoned by her beloved Cleopatra and an indifferent father, young Arsinoe must fight for her survival in the bloodthirsty royal court when her half-sister Berenice seizes Egypt's throne. Even as the quick-witted girl wins Berenice's favor, a new specter haunts her days-dark dreams that have a habit of coming true.
To survive, she escapes the palace for the war-torn streets of Alexandria. Meanwhile, Berenice confronts her own demons as she fights to maintain power. When their deposed father Ptolemy marches on the city with a Roman army, both daughters must decide where their allegiances truly lie, and Arsinoe grapples with the truth, that the only way to survive her dynasty is to rule it.
Holleman's historically detailed and multilayered debut captures the hostile dynamics between the last generation of the Ptolemaic dynasty as Berenice, elder sister of Cleopatra, leads a coup to oust her hated father as ruler of Hellenistic Egypt. While the more famous Cleopatra makes cameos at the beginning and end of the book, the action centers on Berenice's struggles to establish her rule and preserve her imperiled kingdom, while their youngest sister, Arsinoe, finds her own life in danger from various threats. Holleman mines the tense though at times static scenes with scintillating visual details of gorgeous palaces, rich temples, and the famous library of Alexandria, evoking a world in which the ancient heroes Alexander and Odysseus and Greek tragic characters such as Antigone come to life. The book deftly imagines the intricacies of the life of an ancient ruler, in which the rhythms of the Nile and native Egyptian deities mesh uneasily with Greek rites. Berenice is portrayed as ruthless and conflicted, fearful of being seen as soft, while Arsinoe grows increasingly aware that her visions are not dreams but portents, a difficult gift. Holleman's imaginative, textured portraits of the lives and ambitions of these little-known heroines will appeal to readers of historical and literary fiction alike.
Well written. Interesting story. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Disappointed that there isn't more.