07 January 2011


Being a lover of historical fiction, one of my favorite books was Shogun byJames Clavell. Then I few years ago I was in San Antonio, TX and the lady sitting by the pool next to me was reading a book that looked interesting. She said it was a book about the real life person that Shogun was based on, and I was immediately intrigued. Unfortunately, I forgot about it for quite a while, and by the time I tried to find it, had forgotten the name. After much searching and putting together what I could remember about the book, I decided that this was the book. I ordered it from the library with great anticipation. Unfortunately, the book was not quite what I had hoped. 

On the plus side, this is a non-fiction history book, but it reads like a novel.Giles Milton has a wonderful writing style, and I found the book quite fascinating in general. On the negative side, the book wasn't really about William Adams as much as it was about the opening of Japan to European trade. After mentioning Adams at the beginning of the book, the author proceeded to spend the first third of the book detailing how the Portuguese were able to set up trade with Japan before the English arrived. The next third of the book dealt with failed attempts by the English to get a toe hold in Japan. The last third of the book actually dealt with early English trade with Japan, mostly dealing with how inept it was. Although Adams was a huge friend of the Japanese emperor and appeared to be instrumental in securing trading rights for both Portugal and England in Japan, as far as this book goes he was more of a minor character. In fact, I learned more about Edwards Cooks, the first English factor in Japan than I ever learned about William Adams. There were frequent references to how Adams took a Japanese family, how he became "Japanized", and how he interceded for both countries, but they were just that. References. There was really no detail on his life, his family's life, or his dealings with either the Europeans or the Japanese. 

Don't get me wrong. If you want to learn about the chronology of early European trade with Japan, this is the book for you. That story is told in detail, and told well. The author has a wonderful writing voice, and the story kept me interested from beginning to end. I was just looking for something more like a biography of William Adams, which this book was not.

05 January 2011


So - Historical fiction and historical figures are my forte. In fact, I am one of the mods of a group called History of Royals, so when Stephanie Drayapproached me with an offer to read a ARC of this book I jumped at the chance. Although I have not read a lot about the Ptolomies so far, I find them and Egypt fascinating. I have always been fascinated by their gods, rituals, etc. This particular book focuses on Cleopatra's daughter, Cleopatra Selene. It begins with Cleopatra's death, and follows Selene to Rome, where she was raised by Augustus Caesar's sister, Octavia. The story then follows her all the way until her betrothal and elevation to Queen of Mauritania in Africa. 

I was fascinated with this story from the first page, especially since I wasn't really aware that Cleopatra had a daughter, or what happened to her after the death of Marc Anthony and Cleopatra. I mean, I knew that she had children, but had never really spent much time finding out about them. It turns out that Cleopatra Selene played a pretty big role in Egyptian - Roman relations, just like her mother. I was fascinated by the way that the author made Selene come to life. In some ways she acted just like any girl in a similar situation, if there are any similar situations these days. The book never slowed for me. My only wish is that I had not tried to read it during the holidays, so that I could have sat down and devoured it from start to finish. Even my husband got into the story when I would read parts out loud to him. Although he did not finish the book, or at least not yet, he really enjoyed the part that he read, and he is not a historical fiction aficionado. 

Another thing that really impressed me with this book was the way that the author approached the writing of the book. At the front of a book she has written a "dear reader" letter, clearly stating that, although she did extensive research on the subject of the book, it is a work of fiction and that, as such, she felt able to move things around a bit to fit her story. She also has stated that the book is told from the point of view of Cleopatra Selene and therefore contains a bias toward the Egyptian point of view. I commend her for stating this up front. I, for one, do not mind biases and such things in a fictional story. It usually inspires me to search out more on the subject and characters, which this book certainly did. 

In addition, I saw some of my favorite historical fiction and history writers listed by the author as her inspiration, and as having an influence on her writing. This I took to be another good sign, and I was not disappointed. 

At the end of the book the author states that there is a sequel to this book in the works, which follows Selene through her life in Africa. All I can say it - I can't wait for the sequel to come out. I am really anticipating the end of the story of this wonderful person. 

I would rate this book at 4.5 or 4.75 stars. A solid A book.