I’ve been wanting to read Stephanie Dray’s debut novel Lily of the Nile for months. Ever since it popped up in my recommendations on Amazon, the gorgeous cover and engaging plot summary pulled me in and wouldn’t let me go until I experienced the book. I’ve always been interested in historical fiction, and the ancient world was always a favorite topic of exploration.
Lily of the Nile tells the tale of Selene, the daughter of Cleopatra, the last pharaoh of Egypt, and Marc Antony of Rome. The novel opens with the death of Cleopatra soon after the fall of Egypt to Rome. Selene, her twin brother Helios and their half brother are taken back to Rome as war prizes for the emperor Octavian.
Instead of being killed, Selene and her brothers are dumped into the home of their father Marc Antony’s Roman wife and her children. Selene soon finds that the situation isn’t as charitable as it seems, nor is it as free as it seems. Still a prisoner, Selene is caught between her mother’s legacy and love for Egypt and the powerful Emperor Octavian, who would rather see Cleopatra’s children integrated into Roman society and used for his own means. To survive, Selene must protect her brothers and follow Caesar’s orders, even if doing so threatens everything she holds dear.
Lily of the Nile is an intriguing read filled with politics, manipulation, a dash of ancient mysticism, and an unforgettable journey through the ancient world through the eyes of one of the most fascinating figures of ancient Rome. The characters are strongly drawn and feel sympathetic and real, especially Selene. She’s a strong protagonist that readers want to cheer for and want to succeed in a seemingly pointless endeavor.
Alongside Selene, many of the other characters do feel a little weak, perhaps because some of them are given relatively little page time, or at least it feels like some characters, such as Octavian, didn’t quite seem to come completely into their own on the page. I’ve read that there’s supposed to be a sequel to Lily of the Nile, so perhaps he’ll come to life more in the next installment.
As for the writing style, Dray is a fabulous storyteller and a dedicated historian who weaves together thorough research on the ancient world seamlessly with mesmerizing fiction. The details are lush, and the overtones of mysticism give the story just enough punch to stand out from similar novels and give it a different level.
Though Lily of the Nile technically is written for adults, it’s great for younger readers who enjoy historical fiction. While Dray still has some maturing to do as a writer, Lily of the Nile shows amazing potential for her to become absolutely explosive in future installments.I’m excited to see what the future holds for this wonderful new writer.