Thursday, December 5, 2013

Daughters of the Nile by Stephanie Dray

Title: Daughters of the Nile
Author: Stephanie Dray

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Ancient Rome / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Herod / Magic)
Publisher/Publication Date: Berkley Trade (12/3/2013)
Source: The author

Rating: Looooooooooooooooooooooooved like a loving thing!
Did I finish?: Oh yeah -- I even reread the second book in anticipation.
One-sentence summary: The final chapters in the life of Cleoptra's daughter, Queen Cleopatra Selene of Mauritania, and her battle with the Emperor Augustus.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I do - so dramatic and lurid!

First line: I will never see my mother's Egypt again, I think.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy, buy, buy -- and get the first two, too!

Why did I get this book?: Because I adore Dray's writing and this series is electrifying!

Review: Wow. Wow. It's been a few days since I've finished this one, and I'm still struggling with how to articulate just how much I adored this book. Loved it so much I want to just yell at everyone in all caps to convey my deep passion for it! 

Daughters of the Nile is the final volume in Dray's trilogy about Cleopatra's daughter, Cleopatra Selene. (I've reviewed both the previous volumes, Lily of the Nile and Song of the Nile.)

At this point in Selene's journey, she's begun openly resisting Roman emperor Caesar Augustus in her endeavor to fully own her life.  After struggling with the heavy weight of her family's name and legacy, the lure of ruling Egypt always tempting her, Selene has paid for her ambitions -- and what was just her burden is now affecting others: her husband, King Juba, her daughter, Isadora, her niece, Phythodorida.  But pursuing her own dream isn't easy nor gifted to her by Augustus, and as with the previous novels, Dray doesn't coddle the reader nor hold back on the brutality, cruelty, and gutting reality of life for women in this era.

This is a historical fantasy, technically, but Dray's use of magic in this series is subtle and understated and felt so natural that I never noticed it.  The characters aren't using magic to enchant people or get work done; like everything else in this series, using magic comes at a considerable cost, and the decision to evoke magic is weighed carefully. 

Dray's storytelling skill is just marvelous, and seen not only in this book but in the trilogy over all. Selene's life is one of tragedy, and yet, as a heroine she is dynamic, determined, and dedicated toward getting what is hers. Dray artfully conveys Selene's growth, from a young prisoner of war in Lily of the Nile to a teenaged monarch and mother struggling with demons and her desperate desire to win at all costs in Song of the Nile to, finally, a woman fully realizing what must be sacrificed to save what she loves in Daughters of the Nile.

There are no static characters in these books; everyone changes, grows, develops, and their actions make complete sense.  Even the twisted, torturous Augustus -- a monster -- had moments of humanity, and had characters who loved him as much as they loathed him.

And oh, how I loved these characters.  Dray is as hard on everyone else as she is on Selene and to say Dray gutted me is an understatement.  As I was finishing this book, my wife woke to find me sobbing -- shoulder-shaking sobs! -- at 3am.  I had my heart broken about ten times in this book, and the way Dray built up, drew out, and brought all that pain and pathos to life was just astounding.  I loved every agonizing minute.

Here's the bottom line: Daughters of the Nile might be one of the best concluding volumes in a series I've ever read, and Dray's Cleopatra Selene trilogy among the best historical fiction trilogies out there.  It has everything for hungry readers of historical fiction: rich and atmospheric details that evoke a foreign time and place, a standout cast of characters that live and breath, resonant themes and deep emotional interactions that are impossible to shake off, and some deliciously disturbing soap opera-y elements in case you were feeling safe. 


  1. How wonderful! I'd noticed that you really liked this series so I'm happy to hear that it ended so well :)

    1. I really need to make video reviews so I can just have muppet arms for 20 seconds to convey my joy over this one. So delish!

  2. I read book 1 but that was it, I really should read more

    1. Oh, they just get better and better! You must!

  3. My mom is fascinated with Cleopatra so I bet she'd love this!

    1. It's marvelous -- not v much about Cleopatra specifically, and more about her legacy. Dray fills in the blanks abt her daughter and it's just captivating.

  4. Just starting this one now. I wish I would have had time to fit the second book in first but I didn't. Hopefully I won't be too lost in what is going on. Glad to see you liked it!

  5. Oh, hope you enjoy it! The second one is totally necessary, I think, but if I recall correctly, Dray provides enough contextual hints hopefully you won't be too lost. And I hope you get a chance to get to the second book -- as I work on my own writing, Dray's arc/development of Selene is something I'm studying.

  6. So glad to see you loved it! It's been a while since I read the second book, but I've been eagerly awaiting this one. I will be reviewing it in January. :)

    1. Oh, it's so SO good! Can't wait to see what you think of it, Anna!!


    First of all, of course the author sent this to you because you are lovely and wonderful. She's so nice on twitter, isn't she?

    Second of all, your enthusiasm for this series makes it hard to resist. I bought the first two based on your love for them, but this seals it. I will definitely be getting to these three books in 2014! Hopefully in EARLY 2014.

    And lastly, it is so refreshing to find a series that doesn't completely bungle the ending. The sobs-at-3m worry me, but I am convinced this series will be a perfect fir for me. It's like what I wanted from Michelle Moran's Egyptian novels and never got!

    Lovely review, Audra. I am so glad it lived up to expectations!

    1. EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!! Cannot wait to see what you think when you read it! I really hope you get to it in 2014 so we can gush.

      The 3am crying was only because I was totally so in love with a character and TRAGIC END. But so so sooooooooooooooooooo good!

      The historical elements, from the plot to the setting to the characters, is just spot on. It's really incredible. This book has made my best of 2013 -- really just stellar.