Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wanted: Food Taster for Royal Family

Food tasters didn’t last very long in Cleopatra’s day. Food tasters were slaves. They didn’t apply or volunteer for the job. Sibling rivalry and family feuds added to the need for food tasters and a high turnover among them. Someone stirring soup in the kitchen or a servant bearing a tray of goblets, or even a guest at the banquet table was always trying out a new poison in order to take over a country or an empire. It’s a wonder Cleopatra’s children ever enjoyed dessert. That makes the life of Selene, Cleopatra’s only daughter, all the more remarkable.

CLEOPATRA’S MOON by Vicky Alvear Shecter, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2011

Thirteen year old Selene is the daughter of Cleopatra and Marc Antony. In this history enriched first novel, Selene relates how she survived them all, parents, brothers, and a cast of rivals, anyone who didn’t like her or considered her a threat to their power. That seemed to be almost everyone since Selene’s ambition was to be a great and powerful queen, just like her deceased mom. Friend or foe? Hard to tell. Selene had to do some fast thinking.

The author credits a friend and bookseller for insisting she write this story about Cleopatra’s only daughter and only surviving child. Readers will be glad she listened.

Shecter brings these ancient characters to life and makes them feel contemporary with enough romance and adventure to keep all readers turning pages and enough history to amaze us at how much we enjoy classical times. Just when the reader begins to wonder what time it is, the author thoughtfully grounds her with a chapter or section heading noting the year of Cleopatra’s reign and the age of the narrator, the voice of Selene telling us what time it is, and what time it would be if her mother still reigned. A character list (oh, thank you!), author’s note, and a factual explanation make fascinating reading.  

Author Shecter delights in what she has discovered from this period and shares it enthusiastically as a museum docent, author in schools, and writer. She has also written two nonfiction books, Alexander the Great Rocks the World and Cleopatra Rules! The Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen.

Be prepared. Your approach to mealtime is going to change. You’ll thank your lucky stars you won’t need a food taster.

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