Sunday, 30 October 2011

80. "Queen of Kings" by Maria Dahvana Headley

Publisher: Bantam
Page count: 448 pages
Date begun: October 17th, 2011
Date finished: October 21st, 2011

What if Cleopatra didn't die after Mark Anthony was defeated? What if she made a deal with a powerful goddess instead, and became an immortal, blood-sucking creature (who can shape shift into a giant serpent or a lion at will) determined on wreaking her vengeance on Emperor Augustus and the Roman Empire instead? Sounds like it should be a pretty fun book, doesn't it? Well, I'm sorry to say, Queen of Kings is not a lot of fun. It's an interesting idea, and Maria Dahvana Headley has obviously done a lot of historical research, but the book she's written is surprisingly dull, considering its subject matter, and I have absolutely no interest in reading any more in what promises to be a series, with the immortal Cleopatra as protagonist.

As I said, the premise is intriguing - when Mark Anthony's troops in Egypt are defeated, and he receives a message (sent by Octavian, the future Emperor Augustus of Rome) that Cleopatra is dead, he kills himself. Cleopatra, determined that Egypt will not be defeated, uses a dodgy translation of an ancient spell to summon Sekhmet, the lion-headed godess of cheerful things like slaughter, pestilence and chaos. In an attempt to save Mark Anthony and her beloved Egypt, she makes a pact with the goddess, but loses her soul and becomes a blood drinking monster, forced to do Sekhmet's bidding. Octavian/Augustus, who is both attracted to and despises Cleopatra, soon realizes what she has become, and turns into a paranoid lunatic to escape her vengeance. He takes her children with him to Rome, and hires witches and powerful spell casters to try to battle her.

The book is told from multiple points of view, from Cleopatra to Mark Anthony to Augustus to a whole bunch of other people, and sometimes switches around so fast that it gets confusing. I picked up the book because of the premise and the cover quote by Neil Gaiman (after all, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, also recommended by him, is all kinds of awesome), but finished it mainly out of stubborness and the hopes that it might get good as the story progressed. Really, she's a vengeful vampire who can shape shift, how do you make that boring? Tastes may differ, some people on Amazon at least seem to have really liked this book. I found it dreary, and would recommend others to stay away from this book. There's so much better paranormal fantasy out there.

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