I love to read and can get very attached to my opinions, but recently I've been learning not to completely lose my head when people disagree with me, so feel safe to argue with me whenever you wish ;)
Wow. I cannot even begin to convey how much this book touched me. It would be an understatement to say that it's simply good; it transported me so thoroughly to the historical time period that I have trouble thinking of it as a written story and not as a sort of vivid dream. The 500 pages felt like a blur. I used to hate reading anything on the history of the Roman Empire, but this book kept me up for hours after I was supposed to be sleeping, wondering, was this what Cleopatra Selene was like? Was Augustus Caesar really so vulnerable, so human, so utterly flawed? We may never know, but Dray's interpretation of it is so real and gripping that I have trouble not believing it.
Oddly enough, it was the minor part about Helios that was most memorable for me. It represented perfectly what Selene is forced to leave behind--her hopes to live up to her mother's legacy and reclaim her throne, her longing to be with the family she lost--combined with the joy of founding a new family of her own. Despite the fact that Selene's life ends in relative happiness, there's a distinct sense of tragedy to it too, that her past and her future are never fully reconciled. She has to learn not only to adapt, but to fully embrace the changes in her life that are out of her control, and let go of the hopes (that the I as a reader fully shared with her) that she can't realize, lest she sacrifice too much.
On a lesser note, this is why I totally love historical fiction…Fantasies and romances are great, but this reminds me that people actually live the extraordinary lives I usually take for granted to be dramatic representations of life.
As always, the plotting is brilliant and takes turns you never really expect them to (unless you're thoroughly read on the history of this period, which I wasn't), feeling completely organic and natural all the while. I would say that the pacing isn't quite as strong as the first two books, spanning fifteen years rather than five, but Dray succeeded so well in all the other parts of the book that it didn't matter.
I do have one small complaint: the present tense. For all my love of this book, I found Dray's decision to use present tense after using past tense for the first two books a confusing one. Especially since this one spans fifteen years and requires Selene as our first person narrator to give recaps of events rather than narrating them out. It constantly sounds like it wants to go to past tense, and there are times when the narration doesn't make sense, such as this:
"…I carefully slide Juba's dusty old scrolls back into their holders. That's when I hear Dora scream."
My question is, how did Selene know that Dora would scream right at the moment she slid Juba's scrolls back into their holders? It literally sounds like she is narrating something in retrospect, in present tense, which is extremely weird. Also, the use of contractions in the narration sometimes (albeit rarely) makes Selene sound more juvenile, even though she's actually much older in this book.
However, such quibbles were minor and I only remembered them once I finished and began reflecting on the novel as a whole. And I never, ever thought I would rate any book written in present tense five stars until now, given how much I utterly despise it. I still do, but Dray's awesomeness in every other aspect of the book makes me much more forgiving in this case.