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Walk Like an Egyptian

Maria continues her procession through The Royal Diaries series with Cleopatra VII: Daughter of the Nile

Walk Like an Egyptian

BOOK REPORT for Cleopatra VII: Daughter of the Nile by Kristiana Gregory

Cover Story: Contradictory
BFF Charm: Yay!
Swoonworthy Scale: 5 and -13
Bonus Factors: Ancient Egypt, Library
Anti-Bonus Factor: The Patty Chase Award for Awful Parenting (and Sibling-ing)
Relationship Status: The Actually Super Nice and Awesome Popular Girl

Royal Diaries Drinking Game
A reminder of the rules!

Take a sip when:
• There is talk of a betrothal
• The protagonist references the diary concept (i.e. apologizes for not writing often enough, has to find a hiding place for the diary, explains why she's writing in it to begin with, etc.)
• The protagonist wonders what it would be like to be a "normal girl"
• There’s a ball
• Somebody is poisoned or strangled or in some other way Ye Olde Murdered
• You wish you were a princess

Take two sips when:
• The protagonist becomes officially betrothed for realsies
• It's the protagonist's birthday (or culturally equivalent celebration)
• Obvious historical foreshadowing (i.e., from this book: there's a poisonous snake loose in the palace...)
• You're really glad you're NOT a princess

Take a shot when:
• The protagonist gets hitched
• Another Royal Diarist is mentioned

Cover Story: Contradictory

The physical appearance of Cleopatra is a whole big area of debate.  Some people say she was probably blonde, some people say she was black, some people say she had purple eyes (that was Hollywood).  The truth is we'll probably never know for sure, so whatever interpretation an author/book illustrator chooses to go with is a-okay with me.  But they should at least agree with each other.  The Cleopatra on this cover and the Cleopatra described within don't look a thing alike.

But the leopard is badass.

The Deal:

Ever wondered what Cleopatra got up to before she started marrying her brothers and rolling herself up in the carpet?  Apparently the answer is "tried to avoid being murdered, mostly."  Cleopatra is the third of her father's six children, and already knows she's the one best suited to be his heir.  She's the only one who can actually speak Egyptian*, for one thing; for another, her eldest sister Tryphaena is psychotic and is probably planning to kill her.  Unfortunately, their dad, King Ptolemy XII, pretty much sucks as a ruler.  Somebody's defs trying to assassinate him, and the peasants are basically in revolt.  So Cleo and her father flee to Rome, where they have to convince the Roman Empire to help out without letting them take over Egypt like they've taken over pretty much everywhere else.  This may well be the most gruesome death-filled book in the Royal Diaries series, which is probably why a lot of people remember it so well.  (Come for the Queen of the Nile, stay for the poisonings, strangulation, and decapitation!) 

*In addition to Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and more.  Cleo really made me feel bad about my high school-level Spanish abilities.

BFF Charm: Yay!

Cleopatra is that really confident girl at school who always looks fashionable but not like she's trying too hard and who can somehow talk about French cinema without sounding pretentious.  She's cool, basically.  She's sweet and caring to her friends, clever and observant when navigating politics, and excels at taking down douchey, powerful men with a single cutting remark.  Cleo is equally willing to engage in a convo about theological beliefs or about having a crush on that hot ex-gladiator.  And, I cannot stress this enough, she has a pet leopard.  Basically she's everything I'm looking for in a best friend, and she wouldn't even care that I'm technically not cool enough to hang out with her.

Swoonworthy Scale: 5 and -13

This was REALLY HARD to decide, guys.  Even though IRL Cleopatra's relationship with Mark Antony came after her relationship with Caesar, when she was in her late twenties, Kristiana Gregory really plays up their encounters in this book.  There's a certain...frission between them, and seeing Antony from Cleo's perspective was pretty swoony in a crush-on-an-attractive-older-man kinda way.  But from my modern, non-teenage perspective, it was pretty hard to get over the fact that he is twenty-seven years old and she is fourteen.  The creep factor kinda mitigates the swoon.  So I'm subtracting thirteen points, both for the number of years between them and for her age in the majority of their interactions.  (There's also hints of romance between Cleopatra and her much more age-appropriate friend Olympus, but it's too slight to really provide any swoon.  On the other hand, the relationship between two secondary characters is pretty swoonworthy in a peripheral way.)

Talky-Talk: O Isis!

This book stays within the established style of the Royal Diaries series for the most part.  This means that the writing is pretty straightforward, providing good descriptions of setting and even better insight into Cleopatra's thoughts and emotions.  It also means things sometimes get a bit ridiculous, with all the "How could I, the Princess of the Nile" and "in my royal opinion" every few pages (in case we forget, I guess?).  On the other hand, I love that the exclamation "oh" is written as "O," especially in its most frequent usage of Cleopatra's prayers to Isis.  It makes everything feel a little more exotic and ancient.

Bonus Factor: Ancient Egypt

Gregory does a great job in bringing the atmosphere of Ancient Egypt (and Rome!) to the page.  On the one hand, Alexandria is amazingly technologically advanced, from the canal system to the invention of a steam engine.  On the other, it's a world filled with great brutality, as in slavery and violent invasions.  Still, with all the descriptions of merchant caravans, heated baths, silks and jewels, ocean villas, spices and perfumes--there were defs a few times I wished I had a time machine when reading this book.

Bonus Factor: Library

Cleopatra spends some time in the Library of Alexandria, which sounds amazing.  The descriptions of the Library in its glory days made me really happy but also really depressed, knowing (unlike Cleo) the eventual fate of the knowledge contained in those thousands and thousands of scrolls.  I kept wanting Cleo to abandon her whole escape-to-Rome thing and focus on getting her Dolly Madison on.

Anti-Bonus Factor: The Patty Chase Award for Awful Parenting (and Sibling-ing)

King Ptolemy may suck as a ruler, but he sucks even worse as a parent.  He's always drunk, he depends on his preteen daughter to do most of the serious politicking, and he has absolutely no qualms about straight up executing his disobedient children.  Bonus awards go to Cleopatra's power-hungry and poison-happy siblings, who are no help.

Casting Call:

Crystal Reed as Cleopatra

I spent a lot of time trying to figure this one out, between the book's description and the cover illustration and popular perception...  Eventually I just considered which actress seemed the most regal to me, and for some reason that's Crystal.  (I also thought about Natalie Dormer, but girl deserves a break from playing teenagers.  So does Crystal, but at least she's not in her thirties yet.)

Relationship Status: The Actually Super Nice and Awesome Popular Girl

Book, everyone's always telling me how great you are.  Whenever I tell people I'm reading the Royal Diaries series, they're all, "OMG, Cleopatra was my favorite!"  I might have been a little skeptical of your awesomeness going in, but you totally swept me off my feet with your intelligence, kindness, and awesome vacation homes.  I'd love to join your clique.  I'm a little concerned about the death rate, but at least you have a leopard to protect us.

FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased this book with my allowance. Cleopatra VII: Daughter of the Nile has been available for years, y'all. So get on that.

Maria Greer's photo About the Author: Maria is originally from Montana but goes to school in the Bay Area, where she totally fails to take advantage of the tech industry. Instead, she is majoring in history and creative writing, with which she plans to do...something. Currently her hope is that someone will come along and offer to pay her to read YA novels and eat cupcakes. Until that day, Maria spends most of her time studying and petitioning the university to let her keep a cat in her dorm.