Cleopatra's Shadows by Emily Holleman

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Cleopatra's Shadows by Emily Holleman

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Amy Etherington
Reviewed by Amy Etherington
Summary: A mesmerising and vivid tale which tells the story of two women forgotten by history. Full of danger and adventure, Cleopatra's Shadows is a gripping read which is driven by the tragedy of two sisters and it is wonderfully entertaining. Highly recommend.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: June 2016
Publisher: Sphere
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0751560176

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Egypt. 58 BC. Arsinoe has been abandoned by her father, Ptolemy XII, who has fled Alexandria and taken her beloved sister Cleopatra with him. It is now Arsinoe's half-sister Berenice who has seized the throne, leaving the young princess to fight for survival in the bloodthirsty and treacherous royal court. Berenice too has her own demons to face – having taken the throne from her weak-willed father she now has to prove herself worthy of being queen, as the possibility of her father and Cleopatra's return forever threaten to crush her new-found power.

The first book in an upcoming series, Cleopatra's Shadows is a fascinating novel that covers a small period in Ancient Egyptian history that most of us probably know nothing about. Cleopatra is of course perhaps the most famous of Egypt's pharaohs but she features very little in this novel, with Emily Holleman choosing to tell the story of her sisters, Arsinoe and Berenice – but they're no less interesting. The narrative is written from the perspective of both sisters and the balance between chapters is handled very well, with both Arsinoe and Berenice getting plenty of page time to tell their stories. Arsinoe I think was my favourite of the two – she's young but fierce, and her character packs a lot of punch for someone who was only eight years old when she was abandoned by her family.

Holleman has also done an amazing job creating such a vivid representation of the ancient city of Alexandria. There are plenty of details about culture, religion, and history without the story feeling weighed down or dull and it all adds to the richness of the narrative. It's a vivid tale and whilst not a sweeping epic, it's definitely a work of historical fiction you can really get your teeth in to. There's conspiracy and treachery behind every corner and although there aren't great mounds of action or battle sequences, there's a genuine historical flavour that courses throughout which kept me hooked right up until the final page.

Heroines Arsinoe and Berenice feel very different to begin with and despite being sisters, wars within the family have led them in different directions until circumstance throws them together. They both have their flaws but they're both interesting characters and I liked how despite their weaknesses, they both come across as strong young women in what was a very male dominated world. As the story goes on you see how similar they are – both struggle to know who to trust and each of them only wants to survive, but living in such a dangerous time leads to sad truths and ultimately, it makes for a moving read. I was sad that the book had to end but it left plenty of opportunity to continue the story in the next instalment, so I very much look forward to Emily Holleman's next work. An enchanting historical tale that I enjoyed immensely.

Many thanks to the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag. For more satisfying historical fiction, I'd recommend The White Queen by Philippa Gregory which is set during the turbulent War of the Roses and focuses on Elizabeth Woodville, another flawed yet interesting woman from history.

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Buy Cleopatra's Shadows by Emily Holleman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Cleopatra's Shadows by Emily Holleman at


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