Queen of Kings by Maria Dahvana Headley

Publisher: Bantam
Pages: 448
Buy: Paperback, Kindle
Source: Review copy

Review
The love story of Antony and Cleopatra is one of the most enduring and popular tales from antiquity and its tragic end is well known. But, while Antony was a Roman through and through, Cleopatra was queen of a more exotic land and she was regarded as the the embodiment of the goddess Isis. In Queen of Kings, Maria Dahvana Headley, takes this idea to its extreme and looks at the choices that Cleopatra may have made if she could have used the dark power of Isis to save the man she loved.

Trapped in the Mausoleum, waiting for the victorious Octavian to claim her for his triumphant return to Rome, Cleopatra uses an ancient spell to merge with Isis. The bite of the asp transforms her into something crazed and monstrous. She can take on the form of snakes and lions but she has become even more fearful than that. She is now a vampire that must feed on her own people by night and is never sated. Of course, it’s not them she wants vengeance on. It’s Octavian she wants.

Like any good book, there are several layers to Queen of Kings. On the one hand, we have a dark and quite sexy tale of Cleopatra’s deep passion for Antony, a passion which drives her to inhuman deeds. On the other hand, we witness Cleopatra’s growing realisation that when all’s said and done, no matter what she does, Antony will never be more than a ghost. In that sense, we follow Cleopatra’s journey into despair and sadness as she begins to deplore what her grief has made her and she begins to come to terms with her new skin. There is something unbearably sad about Antony’s lot.

We witness the fear and loathing that others feel for Cleopatra but our feelings for her are not allowed to be straightforward. Most painfully, we see what Cleopatra’s selfishness has done to her daughter Selene. Selene turns from this monster of a mother to none other than Octavian, the murderer of Cleopatra’s son, in search of security. We also follow much of the book from the perspective of Cleopatra’s scholar Nikolaus who, better than anyone, knows what Cleopatra has unleashed and fears it. He runs from it while also trying to destroy it.

Rather than being a tale of Cleopatra with elements of horror, this is first and foremost a vampire story with lashings of historical detail thrown in for the mix. You won’t find Cleopatra, Antony of Octavian from history here but what you will read is a dark and very sensuous tale of a woman, the original femme fatale, so stricken by grief, rage and guilt that she will turn the moral order of the world on its head in order to win vengeance.

To sum up, Queen of Kings is a fast and undemanding read that pumps new and original blood into the vampire genre.

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