Cleopatra's Heir by Gillian Bradshaw
LibraryThing tags: Historical Fiction, Alternate History, Roman Empire, Greek World, Egypt, Story Research, Sonderbook (click here for Sondy's review)
This isn't precisely "alternate history" as one normally thinks of it. Or at least, not as I normally think of it. It isn't like Harry Turtledove, or like the only other books I currently have tagged that way on LibraryThing, the Sorcery and Cecelia books. Although it is very, very, very unlikely that the premise of this book actually occurred, it conceivably, theoretically, could have, and our history books would have remained the same.
Cleopatra and Julius Caesar had a son, normally called Ceasarion (all the important figures back then had so many names...). His paternity is debated, but there is good reason to believe Julius Caesar was his father. Among other things, Caesar himself seemed to believe it. Anyway, when Antony and Cleopatra were defeated, Ceasarion was killed by order of Octavian (Caesar Augustus) in 30 B.C. Cleopatra's Heir asks, what if he escaped? Then it proceeds to answer that question quite satisfactorily. The extremely dissimilar viewpoints of a fugitive king and a common peasant are wonderfully done. The character growth is very good, too, without making Caesarion obnoxious and unlikable in the beginning (at least to the reader -- the peasants might have a different opinion). Oh, and the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman cultures are portrayed very well -- accurately, to the best of my knowledge, which one would expect from an author who also happens to be a classics scholar. But she doesn't bog you down in her knowledge, either. If it's a part of the story, she includes it. Otherwise, she doesn't.
I did feel a little detached from this book for some reason -- possibly because of one of those other tags I put on it -- "story research." Still, that didn't come into it much. The issue I want to research more, that of royal hostages, barely was referenced in the book at all. I knew it would be a slender connection. It was still useful, even as a reminder of all the things one has to research to write good historical fiction (and historical fantasy), but that shouldn't have kept me from immersing myself in the story. It normally wouldn't. Maybe I just needed to read it faster. Real life and other books got in the way.