Marius’ Mules XII: Sands of Egypt by S.J.A. Turney

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Winter, 48 BC. Caesar and his small force are trapped in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. Caught up in the dynastic struggles of the House of Ptolemy, the consul has sided with the clever and ruthless Queen Cleopatra. Her brother and fellow monarch Ptolemy XIII languishes in the palace, a hostage of Caesar’s, while a huge army under the command of the Egyptian general Achillas closes on the city to free him.

With both the future of this ancient land and the safety of Caesar and his men at stake, Fronto and his friends face the terrible task of holding an unfamiliar city under siege, in the desperate hope that reinforcements will reach them before the enemy break in.

But Egyptian reinforcements gather too, and with the interference of the youngest princess, Arsinoë, the future is far from written. Trapped, besieged and outnumbered, time is running out for the Romans, as shadows loom across the sands of Egypt

REVIEW

As this is the 12th episode in this magnificent saga, I am going to presume that anyone reading this review is familiar with Marius Mules, and will gloss over the salient points usually covered in my reviews…such as character development, plot, etc etc, mind you all of the usual salient points are done in the usual excellent SJA manner. 😊 Instead, I will state only that Marius Mules would be a must see TV event on par with I, Claudius or ROME.

I will say this about #12…the building tension between Caesar and Cassius and the looming decisions Fronto will be faced with…man oh man, 13-15…I can’t wait.  😎

5 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Song of Songs: A Novel of the Queen of Sheba by Marc Graham

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Lift the veil of legend for the untold story of Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, and Bathsheba, wife and mother of Israel’s first kings.

When Makeda, the slave-born daughter of the chieftain of Saba, comes of age, she wins her freedom and inherits her father’s titles along with a crumbling earthwork dam that threatens her people’s survival. When she learns of a great stone temple being built in a land far to the north, Makeda leads a caravan to the capital of Yisrael to learn how to build a permanent dam and secure her people’s prosperity.

On her arrival, Makeda discovers that her half-sister Bilkis (also known as Bathsheba) who was thought to have died in a long-ago flash flood, not only survived, but has become Queen of Yisrael. Not content with her own wealth, Bilkis intends to claim the riches of Saba for herself by forcing Makeda to marry her son. But Bilkis’s designs are threatened by the growing attraction between Makeda and Yetzer abi-Huram, master builder of Urusalim’s famed temple. Will Bilkis’s plan succeed or will Makeda and Yetzer outsmart her and find happiness far from her plots and intrigue?

REVIEW

I don’t know why it is that I particularly enjoy historical fiction tales from this era and region. Perhaps it has something to do with my first history professor at Wayne State University and his teaching of the Ancient Near East. Or, perhaps it is because of my life long fascination with ancient Egypt (Kemet) vividly portrayed in The Ten Commandments. 😎 Whatever the reasons, Song of Songs has joined my list of favorites from this period. The author has crafted a tale of three people whose intertwined fates makes for not only an intriguing tale of love, adventure, and drama filled historical events, but also a tale rich in the cultures, traditions, and gods of the time. One of the things that makes a story transport the reader into the pages, is having characters who are so immersed in their time and cultures that they draw the reader in with them. You are Makeda in the desert; you are Yetzer defying the fates; you are Bilkis building a kingdom.

The narrative and dialogue lull the reader into a page turning trance. The author skillfully weaves the three separate threads through the tapestry of their lives, bringing them together in a climatic fashion. A well told telling of the Biblical rendering of the time of David, Bathsheba, Solomon, and the building of a temple. 5 stars

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About the Author

Marc Graham studied mechanical engineering at Rice University in Texas, but has been writing since his first attempt at science fiction penned when he was ten. From there, he graduated to knock-off political thrillers, all safely locked away to protect the public, before settling on historical fiction. His first novel, Of Ashes and Dust, was published in March 2017.

He has won numerous writing contests including, the National Writers Assocation Manuscript Contest (Of Ashes and Dust), the Paul Gillette Memorial Writing Contest – Historical (Of Ashes and Dust, Song of Songs), and the Colorado Gold Writing Contest – Mainstream (Prince of the West, coming from Blank Slate Press in Fall 2019).

He lives in Colorado on the front range of the Rocky Mountains, and in addition to writing, he is an actor, narrator, speaker, story coach, shamanic practitioner, and whisky afficianado (Macallan 18, one ice cube). When not on stage or studio, in a pub, or bound to his computer, he can be found hiking with his wife and their Greater Swiss Mountain Dog.

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Daughters of the Nile by Stephanie Dray

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The final volume of this marvelous series by Stephanie Dray has once again awakened in me a fierce envy of her ability to tell a tale.  Riveting, complex characters, their every emotion escaped through the pages and drew me into the fabric of their joys, sorrows, defeats and victories.  There is very little in the historical record about Cleopatra Selene, but what the author has done with that very little is just plain and simple good tale telling.  Her Selene is believable; from the frightened child being paraded in Octavian’s Triumph, to a Queen, mother and revered priestess of Isis, you get the sense that this could be her historical record or at least a reasonable facsimile.  Throw in the depiction of Augustus and his quest for more and more power, his manipulating of Selene and Juba, the tension between the contestants to be Augustus’ heir and you have an epic story that even a crusty old cynic might get a little misty over.  5 stars

The Flame Before Us by Richard Abbott

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Being what you may call an amateur historian since my teens, oh those many years ago, I am always looking for material, whether non-fiction or fiction, to feed me; to teach me.  This series by Richard Abbot has been an eye opener regarding the area of the Near East, Palestine, The Levant; whatever you want to call it.  So many groups have either settled there or held sway over it through the centuries and in The Flame Before Us they all meet.  Wilios or Troy has finally fallen after a prolonged siege and while it is still up for debate and discussion as to what happened to the invaders after the war; while there were some who returned to their homes across The Aegean Sea, others remained and drifted south to find new lands to call home.  That is the crux of book 3 as these mysterious Sea Peoples come into contact with, in some cases violently, with the Kinahny, the Hittite, the Ibriym, the Mitsriy; in short the whole gamut of Old Testament peoples.  The author has crafted a tale filled with memorable characters and has given us a glimpse into the possibilities of so many disparate groups coming together in a region that has seen nothing but strife even unto today.  From the noble, nose in the air, Egyptians to the settlements of peasants to the nomadic clans, we have a tale of loss, hardship, and hope as cultures collide and times change.  Kudos to the author for a most enjoyable series.  I look forward to more.  5 stars

 

Song of the Nile by Stephanie Dray

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Cleopatra Selene, daughter of Mark Antony and Queen Cleopatra is once again marvelously portrayed by Stephanie Dray in the second book of this trilogy tale.  The author is on form as she brings the child of book one into a woman driven by the prospect of becoming Queen of Egypt and restoring Isis to prominence.  Of course, in order to reach those lofty goals she has to contend with a devious Augustus and his take no prisoners wife, Livia.  The story is mostly set during Selene’s reign as Queen and wife to King Juba of Mauretania and details her struggle to maintain the legacy of her mother while learning the dos and don’ts of statecraft and dealing with the maddening antics and commands of Caesar Augustus.  The author has given us a tale full of intrigue, hope and desire.  It’s a dangerous game trying to outfox a man determined to add to his power over the Roman world and his determination to protect his legacy and the future of his family’s role in ruling the world.  The tale is also replete with some surprises, both good and bad, yet Selene finds the strength to persevere in a world where she is often misunderstood by those who want to bring her down.  I am looking forward to the finale.  5 stars.

Lily of the Nile by Stephanie Dray

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The son of Gaius Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, Caesarion, seems to get most of the press in fiction in relation to the three children borne by Cleopatra with Marcus Antonius, Selene, Helios and Philadelphus.  The fate of those three is the backdrop to Stephanie Dray’s series starting with Lily of the Nile.  I was captivated from the get go as the author begins with Cleopatra’s death and the arrival in Rome of the children as part of Octavian’s Triumph; a humiliating experience to say the least.  They are given over to Octavia’s care but it’s Octavian with help from Livia who are the true architects of the children’s future.  The interaction between Octavian and Selene progresses through the story and is one of the highlights of the book.  The author does a superb job in that relationship, one that changes/grows as the power of Isis is made manifest in Selene.  The erstwhile rulers of Egypt never give up their hope of being restored to their rightful place but there are many obstacles and lessons to be learned.  I really enjoyed this story, the portrayal of Caesar Augustus is especially well done as are the characters of the twins…indeed this is a hallmark of Stephanie Dray’s writing acumen…the way she draws the reader into a character’s state of mind.  Looking forward to the rest of this series… 5 stars.