book reviews

The Drowning King, by Emily Holleman

I received this egalley courtesy of Little Brown publishing and

Genre: Historical Fiction, Biographical Fiction

RATING: 3.5 / 5


For those of you who may not know this is the follow-up to the book Cleopatra’s Shadows. The writer has dubbed it “The Fall Of Egypt” series. I’m sure there will be at least one more installation.

The thing that was a bit maddening about Cleopatra’s Shadows was that it wasn’t about Cleopatra at all. It was about her sister Beatrice and her coup, taking the crown for herself from her Father, Ptolemy the New Dionysus, or, as he is referred to in the book, the Piper. It also introduces us to Cleopatra’s younger sister Arsinoe. she is an adolescent of about 7 or 8 when the coup occurs, and she never really cares for her sister Beatrice, and longs for the day when the Piper and Cleopatra return from exile in Rome.

Fade to black….

That is legitimately all you need to know about the first book in order to understand the second one.

Your welcome.

Now, The Drowning King. This one is absolutely worth your time, money, and effort. the only reason I gave it a 3.5 is because I’m still a little mad about the three days of my life I’ll never get back reading the first one.

For me this is what historical fiction is about. Intrigue, incest, plotting, evil mothers, scheming advisors, tests of loyalty, and all of the rest!

The Drowning King begins with the Piper on his death-bed (ok, so Cleopatra and her father came back from Rome with an army and executed Bernice, sorry I forgot that part from Shadows.) They had been back in Alexandria for about four years. Cleopatra and Arsinoe take turns at keeping vigil. They begin to reform their bond and Cleopatra begins to look to Arsinoe for trusted advice.

When the Piper dies his will is read and he has left the kingdom to Cleopatra and her younger brother Ptolemy. They marry and begin their rule of Egypt.

We are introduced now to Ptolemy the younger. He is a spoiled and petulant child. He expects to be good at everything instantly because of who he is by birth. He is greatly disappointed when he realizes this isn’t true. He expected to be named King when his father died and was upset when he found out that he would have to co-rule with his sister.

Cleopatra was also disappointed at finding she was to co-rule with her brother. She begins plotting ways to make him look weak by accentuating his young age, implying he is in poor health, and making him seem incapable of ruling.

Ptolemy’s advisors wisen up to Cleopatra’s machinations and begin plotting of their own.

AHHH, royal intrigue, I love it!

Meanwhile, Arsinoe is caught in the middle. She is fiercely loyal to Cleopatra but also to Egypt. When it seems that Rome is influencing the double crown more and more she begins to struggle internally about to whom she owes her ultimate loyalty.

One of the main reasons I liked this book and others like it (The Song of Achilles by, Madeline Miller) is because these people are always portrayed as larger than life; so much so that you forget that they were real people with real feelings and real inner conflicts. It is so easy to forget that Cleopatra was only 18 (!!!!) when she began to rule Egypt. The author does a great job of humanizing the myth that is Cleopatra. She was at times scared, at times vulnerable, at times stubborn, and often unforgiving. She was always aware of how important her position and duty were to Egypt.

Even though it is a story that many know the broad strokes of, it is always interesting to peel back the layers and explore deeper.




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