In 31 B.C., the forces of Marc Antony and Kleopatra are defeated at the sea battle at Actium. Rather than face the victor, Octavian, Kleopatra takes her own life in one of historyís most memorable suicides. Octavianís most trusted general, Agrippa, is charged with delivering the last heirs of the Ptolemaic dynasty to Rome.
Stunned by the deaths of their parents, the tearful children - twins Kleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios and the younger Ptolemy - begin their fateful journey to Rome. Because they are so young, Kleopatraís children view their circumstances through the eyes of childhood, desperate to remain alive and gain Octavianís favor that they may someday return to rule Alexandria in his name.
Moranís novel is unique in its perspective, the changing environment of Kleopatraís heirs and their inability to control their circumstances or their future. Selene describes the journey to Rome, the painful loss of their younger brother en route, and the arrival before the man responsible for the death of their family.
Selene, Moranís young protagonist, is witness to the loss of Alexandria and the majesty of Octavianís Rome, the new faces of his household, both friend and enemy, an infatuation with a young man promised to another, a yearning to belong somewhere, and the precariousness of their position as the only remaining heirs, a distant threat to Octavian.
Rome is revealed in all its splendor and ugliness: the games, gladiators and violent entertainments, the senate, the justice system, the political terrain, and a potentially explosive slave uprising. Against this dramatic background, Selene and Alexander seek to fit in, make friends, and secure their future with Octavianís blessing.
Although Octavian is engaged fighting wars on other fronts and quelling the roiling slave rebellion, his spies are everywhere. The children seek to impress the adults with their sweet natures and willing attitudes, each developing fine instincts for the injustices they witness. They remain Octavianís pawns, trusting they will sway the emperor in their favor.
For all her tentative security, Selene develops a social awareness beyond her years, the inequities of Roman life devastating to her gentle soul. While a great love affair simmers in the wings, Moranís treatment allows the reader to see Rome as Selene and Alexander live it, from grief and youthful inexperience, navigating a dangerous world, Octavian a bird of prey ever vigilant of his interests.
Fate descends with a vengeance, writing the next chapter in the history of a remarkable period. Moranís particular talent captures the essence of Cleopatraís daughter and a Rome defined by power and politics.