As Cleopatra herself states within this book, people love an elemental story. What could be more elemental than love, ambition, and power?
I read this book in paper form years ago, and it’s a treat to go through it again in audio. The narrator, Donada Peters, also uses the name Nadia May and her real name Wanda McCaddon. She’s tied as my favorite narrator alongside Simon Vance. She has an authoritative voice for the historical narratives I’ve heard her perform, and while she seemed a bit of an odd choice at first for the voice of Egypt’s last queen, she quickly won me over for all of the characters. That’s important for a story of this scale where character is chief amongst the attributes needed to pull it off.
Margaret George’s works never cease to impress me. As an historian, her works are meticulously researched to ensure the known facts are present within the tale. As a storyteller, her pacing is just fast enough to keep things moving, but it’s slow and languid enough to really build the details of character and setting. As I said, character is chief amongst the attributes needed to pull off a story like this, and this is where the author’s skills truly excel. By the end of this book, you feel like you have spent some quality time with not only Cleopatra, but with Caesar, Antony, and many of the secondary and tertiary characters as well. The humanity of these people are brought to vivid life, to the point where it’s understandable why and how the decisions made in their lives unfolded as they did.
Much like with Henry VIII and Helen of Troy, Cleopatra is a subject that Margaret George picked who has little to no voice nor compassion in the realm of public awareness. Most of the stories about her are told by those around her, many of them enemies or political opponents, and in this case, many of those long after she had died. She is largely seen as a powermad opportunist, a political whore, and worse, but rarely is she treated with the respect of a queen and the humanity of a woman. A tale that weaves together the known facts told from her own perspective is immensely satisfying in that the demonized perceptions are lifted like so many veils, one after the next. And in humanizing her, Ms. George has humanized Caesar, Antony, and the rest right along with her. And so, as with Henry VIII, Helen of Troy, and her other novels, this is historical fiction raised to its highest levels, in my own humble estimation. Perhaps I’m biased, already being a fan of hers, and admittedly having been attracted the Cleopatra story some decades ago thanks to the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Claudette Colbert. With any truly great story like this where seemingly everyone is a force of nature, the more you learn, the better it gets, and the more difficult it can be to find that one superior telling of the story. For this particular tale, look no further than this book. The only way it could be better is if perhaps Ms. George decided someday to pen a companion book about Caesar, seeing as how his part is only the last part of his story, but his influence on Cleopatra seems boundless.