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by Gillian Bradshaw
How should one label this new book by Gillian Bradshaw? Alternative history? Yes. Historical romance? Definitely. A psychological study? Certainly.
In other words, the story about the imaginary survival of Caesarion, son of Cleopatra Queen of Egypt and Gaius Julius Caesar represents all three genres.
Caesarion was certainly put to death by Octavian, as the author prefers to call the latter in the literary tradition of many. In this book, Ms. Bradshaw imagines that Caesarion survived his intended death, and she proceeds with a psychological study about what happens when a person of his royal standing is faced with the fact that he is presumed dead to the world and has to accept this as an inevitable reality. On the whole, she does it rather convincingly and along the way has, as so often, written a gripping tale.
Caesarion, left for dead on the funeral pyre after his unsuccessful flight through the desert to the port city of Berenike, comes to in time and manages to flee, and the absence of his body among his adherents goes undetected. However, he is badly wounded, and, near death, is found by an Egyptian caravan master, whose moral precepts do not allow him to leave a stranger behind to an almost certain fate.
And so the story unfolds. Ani, son of Petosuchos from Coptos, is an aspiring merchant, who with Arion's (Caesarion's) assistance and worldly Alexandrian advice, gets where he wants to be, but not without horrifying adventures along the way.
Arion/Caesarion has to struggle with his new identity and his pride, his transformation from royal son who had it all (or did he?) to a mere anonymous Alexandrian noble in dire straights and peril, having to depend on lowly Egyptians for survival, and deadly afraid that he will give himself away or is being recognized by his looks. He has no idea where his life is heading, or what he will be able to do once he reaches Alexandria, where his primary concern is the unknown fate of his beloved young brother, Philadelphus.
As can be expected from this author, adventure, misfortunes and rescues beckon, and their is love interest also, since Ani has a beautiful and bright daughter, Melanthe.
Eventually, Octavian himself gets to play his part. This, in my opinion, is the weakest element of the book: In the real world, a ruthless Octavian – whom Bradshaw keeps erroneously calling “the Emperor” – would never have Caesarion allowed to live, even in anonymity and under the conditions imposed in the story. It would have been too dangerous.
But that's imagination and romance for you …
The real story though is of a young human being thrown into a world and among people of a kind unknown to him, a fact which he has to learn and adjust to painfully, and in that, Ms. Bradshaw has painted for us an admirably believable picture of internal conflict and final resignation to fate.Or triumph? The reader has to decide.
A comment: The author has given Caesarion the disease of epilepsy, in its severest form, inherited from his father, who actually may or may not have had epilepsy: the jury of historians and physicians is still out on this. She admits to using it as a literary device to “make [Caesarion] more interesting to her.” In her view, it gives him an extra dimension, other than simply being the son of “a nasty piece of work,” meaning Cleopatra. One might quibble with that technique, but I have to admit it works well.
Aficionados of historical novels might not want to touch this book of alternative history, but to them I'd say “Give it a try, you might like it”!
© 2003 Irene B. Hahn
by Gillian Bradshaw
Hardcover, 447 pages
Forge; 1st edition (June 2002)
List Price US$25.95
Paperback Edition June 2003
List Price US$15.95
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