Book Review: Song of the Nile by Stephanie Dray

Song of the Nile by Stephanie Dray is an intriguing look at one of history’s most enigmatic characters, Cleopatra Selene, the daughter of Cleopatra VII Philopator of Egypt and Marc Anthony. Cleopatra Selene may have been the only one of Cleopatra’s four children to survive into adulthood.
Born along with a twin brother, Alexander Helios in 40 B.C., she and her twin, along with their younger brother Ptolemy Philadelphus were captured by Caesar Octavian after the battle of Actium in 30 B.C. and brought to Rome in chains to march in Octavian’s triumph. Their older brother Caesarian, said to be Cleopatra’s son by Julius Caesar, was executed at the order of Octavian. Octavian took pity on the children of Marc Anthony and turned them over to his sister Octavia, to be raised in her household. The defeat of Marc Anthony and Cleopatra left Octavian as the supreme ruler of Rome, and the most powerful person in the civilized world. After decades of civil war, Rome yearned for the Pax Romana that Octavian could provide and he ruled virtually unopposed.
As Song of the Nile opens, Cleopatra Selene is fourteen years and is being married off to Juba of Mauritania, who is about to be set up as a client king in his native land by Octavian, who is now known as Augustus. Selene’s brother Alexander Helios has disappeared and she has no idea where he is or whether he still lives. Selene is to be Queen of Mauritania, but what she really wants is to take her mother’s place as Pharaoh of Egypt. She is aware of Augustus’ obsession with her and she determines that she will use this obsession to gain her political ends. At her wedding she costumes herself in a way that provokes the emperor’s lust.
Dray’s Cleopatra Selene is a person in constant internal conflict. She hates Augustus for what he has done to her family, but at the same time she is grateful to him for sparing her life and for his generosity to her, and he is the only one with the power to grant her dearest wish-to be Queen of Egypt, so she feels that she must play his game. For his part, Augustus has a lustful obsession with Selene and at the same time fears her powers of sorcery.
Her twin brother Alexander Helios show up in Mauritania and she is madly in love with him, a love sanctioned in her mind by the Ptolemaic tradition of brother-sister marriage. It is never clear whether the child she bears, Cleopatra Isadora, is the get of Augustus or of Alexander Helios. Her twin brother is determined to avenge their parents and cause as much trouble for Augustus as possible. He renames himself Horus the Avenger and becomes adviser to the Kandake of Meroe, the queen of a kingdom to the south of Egypt, when she invades Egypt.
In the long run Selene must decide if being Queen of Egypt is worth the price she must pay. Song of the Nile is a complex and absorbing novel with many delightful twists and turns.


  1. Thank you for such a lovely and thoughtful review!

  2. You’re very welcome Stephanie. I also posted it on Amazon as I recall.

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