My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars :star :star :star :star
Source: eARC via Netgalley | Hachette Children’s Books
Publisher: Orchard Books
Publication Date: May 7th, 2015
Genre: fantasy, middle grade, historical fiction,
adventure, young adult
Her precious mother is dead - and it isn't an accident! The young Cleopatra - Pharaoh's illegitimate daughter - must flee the royal palace at Alexandria or die too. As her evil half-sisters usurp the throne, Cleo finds sanctuary at the sacred temple of Isis, where years later she becomes initiated into the secret Sisters of the Living Knot. But now Isis's power is failing, Egypt is in danger, and Cleo must prove her loyalty to her goddess by returning to the Alexandria she hates. She must seek out the hidden map which is the key to returning Isis's power - on pain of death. But will she be able to evade her horrible sisters? And will she find dreamy Khai, the über-hot Librarian boy she met as she fled Alexandria years before? Cleo's powerful destiny is about to unfold… Gorgeous and evocative, this captivating new YA novel imagines the life of the teenage Cleopatra before she became the icon we think we know.
My ReviewI received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
Cleo instantly grabbed me with its cover. I saw, Cleo and Cleopatras face with a cartoonish design and immediately gleamed it was a middle grade historical fiction book. Keeping with my historical fiction frenzy I decided to request it, and I’m so glad I did. Although I have kind of taken a break from my middle grade frenzy these past few months, I do still love the genre (and always will). In fact, reading Cleo has helped me remember why I love middle grade books so much when they’re done well. Cleo definitely did a hard thing, in my opinion. That is in the sense that to I felt like I really was reading a great historical fiction novel…but more importantly, I just felt I was reading a story. A story of Cleopatra and how she had to flee the palace in fear for her life just minutes after her mother was pronounced dead. Talk about exciting!
The pacing of this book was excellent. Pacing has been so important to me lately due to my busy schedule. I don’t really give every book 100 pages to “warm up” to anymore like I used to. If I do it just sits there and collects dust and builds guilt in my stomach for not finishing another book. :| Which is why I can’t skip the fact that this book had me pretty much glued to my kindle as the events unfolded. Another thing rarely accomplished in middle grade to a seasoned middle grade reader like myself
And boy, did this book do that. Almost infuriatingly so, to be honest. Why do I say infuriating? Well, probably because I thought things would be tied up with a nice big fat bow on the top at the end. NOT SO! There’s not so much a cliffhanger, as a what the heck moment at the end that I seriously did NOT see coming. It makes me so happy though when this happens in MG books though because I always feel like I know what is going to come. Especially with an adventure story such as this.
Then again, Cleo is so much more than just an adventure story. It’s the story of Cleopatra and her best friend/slave and her survival traveling across the land to finally become a priestess of the goddess. There is some magical elements n the book, that are really really freaking cool!! For instance, the gods and goddess can show their favor openly to anyone/everyone. So some random girl can walk into a room and maybe, if she’s in danger or something, a god can show that they favor her by having a brightly lit symbol of said god glow above her! I thought that was really cool. Besides these little nuances, the ancient Egyptian world was extremely close to our own, in history. I felt it was very believable from the historical aspect. In fact, a little too believable [see interview below]. >.<
While Cleo can “see” gods / goddesses, it’s not something anyone knows. She hides this vey rare and valuable gift, although it doesn’t really come to play more than in a cursory sense, same as her being favorited by the goddess is more like a burden to be honest, and Cleo doesn’t hold herself above others (much). In case like me you kind of are bored by these heroines/heroes born with special magical powers that just save them from everything while they do literally nothing of accomplishment and at the end reap all benefit and priase. *eye roll* THIS is NOT that type of book.
While there is a love interest, Khai isn’t in a lot of the story until the end. I actually really really liked it because (another tricky feat) it felt like a genuine middle grade love blossoming. It didn’t feel too advanced or too juvenile. It really seemed natural and cute and there were tons of “awww!” moments that I just loved (especially since Khai’s a librarian!!!!) :L
The “villains” AKA “Evil Sow Sisters” are Cleopatra’s two half sisters who take the throne after her mother passes away (her father, the Pharaoh is in Rome). Those two…wow, what can I say? I’ll keep it short by saying they were excellent villians. They had depth (one more likable than the other), personality, evil geniuses, and I could see why they decided to turn to evil. Sometimes characters are just “evil” for the sake of “evil” and I always think “why? what enticed them to this lifestyle?” :O I really am anxious to see what happens in the next book with the whole family situation.
Oh did I not mention? THERE IS A SEQUEL. Yes, as I mentioned earlier, the ending really had me surprised. Not only due to the plot twist, but because I had NO idea there was going to be a second book! That kind of bummed me out, because I felt like I was purposefully manipulated. Although, obviously, that is far from the truth! lol. I just didn’t know. So it took me totally off guard and yeah, now I am pretty much in hives dying trying to figure out what will happen with Cleo and Co. in the next book, Chosen! ^_^
I really recommend this book. I heard some reviewers saying it didn’t have enough “historical language” and I have to disagree. I’ve read adult historical fiction books with less historically accurate language than Cleo (ahem, MJ Rose, I love you …but..yeah). I never once felt like, oh, are we back in the 21st century now? That is my biggest thing. If the language sucks me out of the time period and morphs me back into my living room glancing at my gadgets like what? Well, then we have a problem with the language. If the language, however, is subtle enough to keep me in the past engrossed fully with the story, characters, setting, plot, and atmosphere. Well, then, that is a success in my eyes. Cleo did that 100% and it was heavenly to get lost in a book again. It’s been awhile.
I recommend this book to those who love historical fantasy books and strong, flawed, female heroines who don’t have an easy way of things. There is strong mythology and the setting is amazing. If you love imagining how Egypt was during the time of the Pharaohs (plus some magic mixed in), then you need to read Cleo!
:star Thank you for being on the blog today! :star
For those unfamiliar with Cleo: would you describe it in tweet form? (140 characters or less )!
Beset by evil gods & murderous sisters, Princess Cleo must save Egypt & her goddess Isis from doom with help of hot scribe spy boy, Khai.
What is your favorite part of the book?
So hard to choose! But I love the 'Ta Dah! Surprise!' scene in the palace where the older Cleo rediscovers Khai - and I had a LOT of fun writing the bloodthirsty scenes in the embalmer's chamber and in the crocodile dungeon.
I can’t help but feel it can be difficult to write a historical fiction novel for young adult and middle grade readers. Did you encounter any difficulties writing for this age group?
I always have my reader in mind while I'm writing, whatever age group the book is for (and I'm a bit unusual in that I write for all ages from two to teen). The thing which really matters is making the story exciting, so that is always first and foremost in my mind, and I try to pace any book accordingly. I guess the hardest part for me of writing a novel for MG or teens is leaving out fascinating items of research I've come across if they don't serve the story. It's all too tempting to info dump for the sake of it, so I'm pretty ruthless about cutting those bits in later drafts of the book. 'If in doubt, leave it out', is my motto!
How much research did you have to do while writing Cleo?
The short answer is absolutely masses! I describe Cleo as 'paranormal meets historical', so while the bits with magic and the gods are really important to the story, so is getting the actual historical setting right. I tend to do a lot of reading around the subject first, to get me into the period and the mood - I found Stacey Schiff's Cleopatra - A History was a good place to start - and then I go into a lot more detail. In this case that meant going back to translations of writers around Cleo's time for descriptions of how the Royal court would have functioned and what the palace actually looked like, and also a LOT of geographical stuff. I am now an expert in ancient modes of transport up and down the Nile, currents, winds, Egyptian flora and fauna - and the songs of Nile boatmen. I also had to research make-up (everyone, male and female wore it in Egypt), food, embalming techniques, how papyrus smells, how the Great Library of Alexandria stored its 100,000 scrolls, and, of course, how all the Egyptian gods and goddesses were worshipped, plus priestess dress, the layout of temples, animal and plant totems and a whole lot more. If you think of the amount of research I did as a four-storey house, the amount which actually made it into the book is about halfway up the basement!
How much of the history of Cleopatra is actually true? (did she really have two evil “sow sisters”)?
Cleopatra's early life is what I call a 'hole in history' ie no one knows very much about her before she actually came to the pharaoh's throne at eighteen. There are a whole raft of unanswered questions, and that's like candy to a novelist because you can answer them in any way that fits your story. Nobody knew for certain who Cleo's mother was - she might even have been illegitimate, as her father certainly was. She could have been the daughter of her own sister, or of a concubine, or of a member of the Royal court. She definitely had sisters - three of them, two older, one younger - and two younger brothers, but they were probably half siblings. Tryphena and Berenice both held the throne, that's definite, and Berenice was a pretty horrible person (as she is in the story). Their father, Ptolemy Auletes, definitely went into exile in Rome because of his debts. Basically, I've tried to keep the known facts as authentic as possible, and woven my version of Cleo's story in between the very large gaps in our historical knowledge of her.
I had no idea there was to be a sequel until the very last page! Is this a series or is there only going to be a sequel?
I could have gone to three, but I very much wanted to keep to that 'hole in history' period before she ascends the pharaoh's throne, so a pair it was!
What can we expect in the sequel, Chosen?
I don't want to give away too much, but I've made no secret of the fact that Cleo ends on a MASSIVE cliffhanger ! Chosen picks up the story a few hours later, and it takes Cleo and her entourage on an eventful journey across Egypt, and then on a stormy sea voyage to Ancient Rome. As well as more action from the immortals on all fronts, there's rocky romance on the horizon with Khai, an unexpected love interest for Cleo's BFF, Charm, a terrifying army of the undead - and a meeting with a handsome Roman soldier called Marcus Antonius which will shape the rest of Cleo's life. I had a LOT of fun writing it, and I'm hoping everyone will enjoy seeing Cleo grow and mature, as well as finding out what happens to her next. There are quite a few surprises in store!
Thank you again Lucy for being here. I really enjoyed your book and can’t wait to follow Cleo’s adventure in Chosen, in 2016!
We hope to have you again to speak about Chosen :)
Thanks for having me, Diamond - and yes please, I'd love to come back again! I've really enjoyed answering your questions.
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About the Author
Lucy Coats has written over 35 titles (for all ages from two to teen), and has also worked as an editor, journalist and bookseller. She has a passion for all things mythological, and Cleo is her first encounter with the gods of Ancient Egypt. Lucy lives with her husband and three very uproarious dogs in a house mostly furnished with too many books.
You can find out more about Lucy at: www.lucycoats.com and also on Twitter at @lucycoats. Cleo is also on Twitter at @CleoTheChosen if you'd like to chat to her.