fantasy and science fiction book reviewsDaughters of the Nile by Stephanie DrayDaughters of the Nile by Stephanie Dray

Daughters of the Nile concludes Stephanie Dray’s trilogy about Selene, the daughter of Cleopatra, who survived the fall of her mother’s kingdom and went on to become a queen herself. I’ve never been quite sure how to categorize this series — is it fantasy? is it historical fiction with magic realism? — but I’ve certainly been enjoying it.

In Lily of the Nile, we saw Selene as a young girl coming of age; in Song of the Nile we saw her dealing with the issues of young womanhood in addition to the precarious political situation in which she lived. In this third volume, we follow Selene as a mature married ruler with children. She and her husband, King Juba, have taken tentative steps toward making their marriage a true partnership as well as a political alliance, but the relationship has been poisoned with old hurts and mistrust for a long time, and each of them thinks the other is more loyal to the emperor than to him-or-herself (and given the politics of the day, it might even sometimes be true). Selene is also concerned with securing a future for her children and niece, and is torn between ambition on their behalf and a desire to keep them safe from the schemes of Rome. Both of these plotlines are fraught with emotional tension, and Dray will have you worrying, crying, and sometimes rejoicing right along with Selene.

The subtle presence of magic continues to weave its way through the narrative, especially when young Princess Isidora begins to show talents of her own. Then, later in the novel, it seems that the magic level is suddenly amped up much higher than it’s ever been — but then one realizes that it’s not sudden or new at all, given what almost certainly really happened at Eleusis in book two.

The ending of Daughters of the Nile  is poignant and beautiful, including a scene that almost makes me think Dray read my old, old review of Margaret George’s The Memoirs of Cleopatra way back when, because it’s exactly the kind of scene I wished for at the end of that tale. It’s wonderful. And dang it, Stephanie Dray, you made me cry on the bus.

As in Song of the Nile, Dray includes a truly meaty section of author’s notes at the end. In it, she describes what was real and what was her own poetic license, and why she made those choices. I recall Sharon Kay Penman writing about how no novelist would dare to invent Anne Neville dying during an eclipse if it hadn’t actually happened, and there’s a lot of the same phenomenon here — some of the wildest parts of the story are the true ones!

Daughters of the Nile is a longish book — the print edition is 576 pages — but I whipped through it at a frenetic pace. Stephanie Dray brought this somewhat obscure figure to life in my mind, and made me relate to her even though she doesn’t always think like us. She felt like an old friend and I rooted for her all the way. If you’ve read the other two books, don’t even think about missing this one. If you haven’t read them but like big lush historical fiction with a bit of magic, go get Lily of the Nile and start there; you’re in for an adventure.

Cleopatra’s Daughter — (2011-2013) Publisher: With her parents dead, the daughter of Cleopatra and Mark Antony is left at the mercy of her Roman captors. Heir to one empire and prisoner of another, Princess Selene must save her brothers and reclaim what is rightfully hers… In the aftermath of Alexandria’s tragic fall, Princess Selene is taken from Egypt, the only home she’s ever known. Along with her two surviving brothers, she’s put on display as a war trophy in Rome. Selene’s captors mock her royalty and drag her through the streets in chains, but on the brink of death, the children are spared as a favor to the emperor’s sister, who takes them to live as hostages in the so-called lamentable embassy of royal orphans… Trapped in a Roman court of intrigue that reviles her heritage and suspects her faith, Selene can’t hide the hieroglyphics that carve themselves into her flesh. Nor can she stop the emperor from using her for his own political ends. Faced with a new and ruthless Caesar who is obsessed with having a Cleopatra of his very own, Selene is determined to honor her mother’s lost legacy. The magic of Egypt and Isis remain within her. Can she succeed where her mother failed? And what will it cost her in a political game where the only rule is win or die?

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsSong of the Nile by Stephanie Drayfantasy and science fiction book reviews


fantasy and science fiction book reviews


  • Kelly Lasiter

    KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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