Cleopatra's Shadows


By Emily Holleman

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Page-turning historical fiction that reimagines the beginnings of Cleopatra’s epic saga through the eyes of her younger sister.

Before Caesar and the carpet, before Antony and Actium, before Octavian and the asp, there was Arsinoe.

Abandoned by her beloved Cleopatra and an indifferent father, young Arsinoe must fight for her survival in the bloodthirsty royal court when her half-sister Berenice seizes Egypt’s throne. Even as the quick-witted girl wins Berenice’s favor, a new specter haunts her days-dark dreams that have a habit of coming true.

To survive, she escapes the palace for the war-torn streets of Alexandria. Meanwhile, Berenice confronts her own demons as she fights to maintain power. When their deposed father Ptolemy marches on the city with a Roman army, both daughters must decide where their allegiances truly lie, and Arsinoe grapples with the truth, that the only way to survive her dynasty is to rule it.



She soared over the city, parched and desolate. Commoners writhed and withered on the boulevards. Rats scurried past their parents’ corpses toward the dearer dead. Dipping between the temples, she traced their path. Alexander the Conqueror, stern in deathless marble, loomed, his sword thrust in the air. Blood leaked from his eyes, his lips, his thighs. The children cupped their greedy hands to drink.


Wings stretched against the sun, she sailed onward, over bright sands, far from the arid Nile and its sins. Her feathers bristled in the breeze. The desert flamed beneath, and then folded to the sea.


Thirst stung her throat. She circled down, toward the crashing waves. Her beak snapped against the salt.

“Arsinoe, my sweet. Awake.”

She did not fly over the wine-dark sea. She lay small and shivering in her bed.

“Another night terror?” A gentle hand wiped damp hair from her brow.

Eyes sealed, Arsinoe clung to the wisps: her wings spread over the sands, the sticky seawater on her tongue. Had it been a tongue? Or did vultures taste by other means?

“No, it was…not a terror, no.” She was nearly nine. Too old for fears that came at night.

“You could’ve fooled your old nurse.” Myrrine clucked.

Arsinoe opened her eyes. Her nurse perched at the end of the bed, a few wisps of hair escaping her customary bun. With her full cheeks and unlined eyes, the woman had long preserved an almost ageless air—but now Arsinoe noticed the flecks of gray gathered at her temples. Beyond, the room was calm. The sewn muses danced about her walls in reds and golds, her silver basin brimmed with water, her clothes smoothed out for the coming day. But something was wrong. The light pouring through her windows was brash and dazzling. It was late. Long past dawn. She must have slept through the early hours. And on this day, this day—

Arsinoe sprang up from her bed. Her legs were weak and wobbly, as though her soaring dreams had stolen all landlocked memories.

“What’s come over you, my child?”

She ignored her nurse’s words and raced to the door. Knees cracking, Myrrine followed.

“Calm yourself, my dear. Where are you running off to?”

“I must go to the docks—or else I’ll miss Cleopatra.” She needed to say good-bye. She always said good-bye. That was the rule. “What we share is different, you and I,” Cleopatra told her time and again. “We are sisters, and that bond cuts deeper than ordinary blood. No one—not Father, not anyone—will ever come between us.” And so, since Arsinoe had been old enough to totter, she’d trailed her sister down to the river, and watched and waved as Cleopatra was borne away on their father’s adventures. To witness the incarnation of the new Apis bull at Memphis, or to oversee the festival of Ammon-Re at Thebes, or as now to cross the waves to Rhodes, perhaps, or even as far as Rome. And then, alone, she would weep.

“You can’t run to the ships in your underthings.”

“My sister won’t care what I wear.”

“Your father will,” her nurse said. “You must dress as fits a princess.”

Dressing, bathing, combing—all that took too long. This wasn’t some idle voyage up the Nile to check the river’s rise; Cleopatra sailed over the sea. No one would tell her where. Or when her sister would return. It could be months. Arsinoe didn’t have time for braids, and jewels, and other niceties. Grown-ups never understood these things.

“If you say I must…” She took a step, slow, tentative, toward Myrrine—and then she turned and bolted from the room.

“Arsinoe!” Myrrine’s voice chased her. “Arsinoe!”

She slipped past her pair of sentries and ran down the stairs. Soldiers swarmed the small piazza below—the Sisters’ Courtyard, she and Cleopatra called it. That ran in her favor. Their numbers would only swell when she reached the great courtyard. Achilles and Agamemnon, as she had named her two guards, were men grown; they’d catch her quickly in an open race, but they had no skill for obstacles. Weighed down by heft, by armor, and by age, they couldn’t follow as she weaved through the gaps and bays of the crowd. She darted through the private porticoes onto the public ones, past beaming dryads and mauled lions, ax-wielding hunters and sneering sphinxes, until she raced through the eastern gate, and the whole world opened on the sands.

Breathless, she gazed over the beach, the docks, the sea. Against the squinting sun she spotted her prize: her father’s round ship, crimson sails unfurled against the blue. At its prow, Thessalonike, the great Alexander’s sister, transmuted to mermaid form, rose and fell upon the waves. The sand burned her soles, spurred her on.

Ahead, the docks stretched into the unending sea. The shore lay barren. Where were the dancers and pipers, the priests and soothsayers, the nobles and vagrants to see off the voyage? Only a tangle of aging soldiers, too old and worn to tend the king, stood by, spitting whispers over wooden posts.

“Wait!” Arsinoe cried out.

No one listened. A gruff man, fifty if he was a day, set his blade against the rope that bound her sister to the shore. Arsinoe ran to him, and yanked his hand away from the cord.

“Get off me, girl.” Snarling, he wiped her fingers from his arm.

“I am no girl. I am the king’s daughter.”

“King Ptolemy’s daughter is already on board. With the king.”

Stunned, she fell silent. No one spoke to her that way. As though she wasn’t even born of her father’s seed. As though her blood counted for nothing. She wasn’t the favorite—had never been, would never be; the king’s third daughter and his last, she knew where she stood among her siblings. But commoners, courtiers, soldiers—they always treated her with deference.

“I’ve orders, girl,” the man spat. His knife split the twine.

“Clea!” she screamed. “Cleopatra!”

Arsinoe scanned the ship. Guardsmen lingered by the prow, and farther aft a pair of sailors hastened to set the sheets to the wind. The deckhouse curtains were drawn; she couldn’t see inside. Below, three sets of oars stroked the sea as one. All along the docks, the old men spurred their posts against the hull.


The waves crashed against her ears. On board, they’d sound all the louder against her sister’s. There was no use in screeching. She wouldn’t be heard.


And there she was, her sister, a vision on the prow. Clothed in rich sapphire, Cleopatra looked more a goddess than a girl. Even at eleven, she’d begun to take on the contours of a queen. At once, Arsinoe was ashamed of her own soiled garb, the clothes she’d slept and sweated in the preceding night.

“I wanted to come early, but Myrrine didn’t wake me,” she said to her sister in Macedonian, the private, ancient tongue of their family. Cleopatra had told her once that no one else spoke it anymore. Not anywhere in the wide world. They were the only ones who carried on the language of Alexander, the greatest of all kings. “I had the strangest—”

“I can’t hear you,” her sister yelled over the waves.

“Last night,” Arsinoe shouted, “I had the—”

“Don’t fret, little one. I’ll return for you.”

Cleopatra pressed her palm to her lips and blew a kiss along the breeze. Arsinoe caught it on her fingertips. And then she waved, and waved, and waved until her sister shrank into the sea.

“Arsinoe.” A familiar voice greeted her. Her guard, her favorite. Her Achilles.

She could picture him behind her; his curls tumbled in the wind. She liked to pull on the one that always slipped out from beneath his helmet, liked to watch it spring back into place. But she wouldn’t turn to face him—not now. Not with tears threatening.

“You’ve worried poor Myrrine half to death,” he told her.

“I had to say good-bye.”

His shadow dwarfed her own. But she didn’t look back at him. She couldn’t meet his eye. The water had escaped, streaming down her cheeks. Tears were for children.

“Come, princess. I must return you to your chambers.”

She wiped the damp from her eyes and followed, but her mind lingered at the docks. It had been no king’s departure. No trumpeters, no flamethrowers, no priests to spill sacrifices before the ship. The gruff man’s words rang in her ears. “King Ptolemy’s daughter is already on board.”

The return trip was slower, though this time the soldiers parted to let her through. She couldn’t make sense of their numbers: why did so many of them linger, clogging the courtyards? Usually, her father took the better part of his troops with him on his journeys. “A cautious man,” her tutor, Ganymedes, called him, but she could catch a hint of mockery in the eunuch’s voice.

Even the porticoes looked somehow dark and shrunken, though the sun burned as bright as ever. The laughing satyrs who graced the walls of the family colonnades had shed their customary joy. She could have sworn that the jolly red-maned one had sprung a tear on his bearded cheek. When she turned to check, she saw that it was only a glimmer, a trick of the light. Still, she felt that they, too, mourned Cleopatra’s loss. Her sister’s absences sucked the joy from the palace. Sometimes she wished that her own might have the same effect. But no one would notice if she vanished into air.

Myrrine chided her on her return. “Arsinoe, you mustn’t run off like that!”

“I only went down to the docks.”

“Only down to the docks? You could have been—there’s no telling what might have happened.”

“But nothing did. Nothing ever happens.”

“Of course it didn’t,” the nurse’s voice quavered. She knelt beside Arsinoe. Her eyes were red and swollen. She’d been weeping too. “But promise me that you won’t go rushing off like that again.”

“I promise,” she lied.

Myrrine kissed her brow and folded her into her bosom. The nurse hugged Arsinoe so tightly that she could scarcely breathe.

“What is the matter?” she gasped when the woman released her. “Why have you been crying?”

“What nonsense, child,” Myrrine said, laughing. “I haven’t been crying.”

Arsinoe didn’t believe her. She’d borne witness to her mother’s tears often enough, before her little brothers came screeching into the world, to recognize the signs. As her nurse bathed her, Myrrine filled the air with foolish tales of drunken gods and mistaken identities. But Arsinoe wasn’t so easily fooled. She could feel the wrongness all around. The massing guards, the abandoned docks—none of it added up. And no one would tell her the truth. If only Cleopatra were here, she would help make sense of the goings-on.

By the time Achilles and Agamemnon trailed her to her lessons, the guards along the colonnades had thinned. She wondered where they’d all scurried off to; it was too late for them to follow her father across the waves. A second seafaring vessel hadn’t even been prepared—at least she hadn’t seen one on the beach. Around each bend, she expected to come across some new mass of armed men. But she never did, not even once she’d reached the library and turned off into the small reading room where Ganymedes waited. Usually, her royal companions would be gathered, gossiping and giggling around the table. But today she found only the eunuch, a hulking silhouette against the westward windows.

“Where are Aspasia and Hypatia?” Her voice trembled. It had been a dream, she reminded herself, only a dream that the statue of Alexander the Conqueror bled, that corpses lined the streets; it didn’t mean anything at all.

“Elsewhere, it seems,” Ganymedes answered. Cleopatra had first noted this, his calculated air of mystery, and now Arsinoe heard it in his every word. “But that’s no excuse for wasting precious time. Go on, open your scroll.”

With care, she stretched the papyrus across the table. Too many times she’d been admonished for tearing some musty work of Archimedes. Histories, it read. Polybius.

“I thought we were going to read Antigone.” She preferred the tragedies. The stories that unfolded in her mind and invaded her dreams. While epics and plays pulsed with life, histories were for the dead. “And besides, Polybius was a traitor. He betrayed Arcadia for Rome.”

“Now isn’t the time for stories.” The eunuch’s tone was sharp. “It’s time for you to learn the truth about the world. And the importance of taking action in it. ‘Can anyone be so indifferent or idle as not to care to know by what means, and under what kind of polity, almost the whole inhabited world was conquered and brought under the dominion of the single city of Rome, and that, too, within a period of not quite fifty-three years?’”* Ganymedes knew the historian’s words by heart, and Arsinoe had to dart her eyes down the page to keep up. “Are you idle, Arsinoe, or indifferent? Because you shouldn’t be. Not on this day of all days.”

“What’s today?” She’d known something was the matter—her dream, the empty docks, her nurse’s tears.

“Today is the day when it all changes. When you begin to learn why, after a hundred years—after Rome has fought and conquered a hundred more enemies—Polybius’s words ring truer than they ever have.” The eunuch paused and his voice grew gentle. “Tell me, child: have you noticed anything strange about the palace?”

She had noticed so many strange things, from the moment she awoke and rushed down to the sea.

“This morning,” she began eagerly, “when I went to see Cleopatra off, the halls were swarmed by soldiers, but when I walked to the library, there were hardly any left at all.”

“You were right to note that, because something strange is happening in the palace. You remember the fate of your uncle in Cyprus?”

She remembered her uncle well, though she’d seldom had the chance to see him. He’d seemed a good sort of man, jovial and gentle, easy with a smile. On those occasions when he came to Alexandria for feasts and other rituals, he’d paid her the attention her father never did, asking after her schooling and remarking on how she’d grown. It hurt to think of him dead. To think how that loss must torment her father, how it would destroy her if she lost Cleopatra.

“My uncle was killed fighting the Romans, defending the island my forefathers have ruled since the time of Alexander,” she told the eunuch proudly.

“That’s the story your father tells, but it is a lie. Your uncle poisoned himself rather than face Rome’s legions. Marcus Cato, the one the Romans call the Younger, stole the island and its treasures without shedding a drop of Ptolemaic blood. Neither your father nor your uncle lifted a finger to stop him. Your father, I’m afraid, is a coward.”

The words didn’t sting; instead, Arsinoe felt a sort of dull ache in her belly. Shame, not anger, or even hurt. Too late, she opened her mouth to defend him: “My father is no such—”

“Your father is many things, but he’s never been a brave man. Even you know that, in your heart of hearts.”

She nodded. She did know. She’d heard enough servants whispering along the corridors, seen enough noblemen smirking at the sight of her father’s pipe playing to know he wasn’t revered, not as he should be. Not as a king. Not as a god.

“Don’t follow his mistakes. It’s always better to act than to do nothing. Even when your actions are futile, even when the Romans—as Polybius teaches—would still have conquered in the end. Which would you rather do: succumb to fate, or fight for your house, your dynasty?”

“I’d fight. Of course I’d fight.” She and Cleopatra spoke of this at times, this need to fight, to defend what was theirs. After all, Rome had stolen the lands of Alexander’s other generals. Even Mithradates, whose name still cropped up in murmurs, had lost the Pontic kingdom to that poisonous city. Theirs was the only one left.

“Good, because while you might forgive your father for his idleness, the Alexandrians never will. For weeks now they’ve been in near open revolt, clashing with his soldiers, setting fires in the street, though you wouldn’t know it from how your father’s carried on within the palace walls. Your sister Berenice, along with her mother, has enlisted the discontents in a coup—against your father and his womanly, Roman-appeasing rule. That’s why your father flees, unattended, over the sea, to seek Rome’s aid, and your mother has snuck her own path from the palace.”

“My—my mother too?” Her father was forever whisking Cleopatra off, stealing her away on his escapades. She was his chosen one, his heir, and so she had to go see to the kingdom’s concerns. One day they would be hers. But their mother usually remained, busying herself with her sons, sparing a small smile when Arsinoe passed her. Sometimes even a halfhearted kiss.

“Yes, my dear, your mother too. This morning she slipped away with your brothers.”

Arsinoe’s heart thudded in her ears. Her mother had forgotten her as well. Once again, her brothers had come first, as they came first in everything but birth. But couldn’t her mother have taken her too? Would it have been so much more difficult, then, to sneak three children to safety instead of two? And besides, she might have helped with her little brothers. She sometimes played with them, and even though Ptolemy was a sullen, ill-tempered boy of three, she could always make him giggle. Her mother would even praise her for that. “How he loves his sister,” she’d say with that strange smile playing on her lips.

“Is that why Myrrine didn’t want me to go to the docks? Because my mother planned to bring me with her?” she asked, even though she knew better. But she wanted to hear, to be told fully and completely that her mother had abandoned her. To drink in the hurt.

“Perhaps that was the reason,” the eunuch told her gently. But she heard another answer: No. She swallowed hard. She’d begged for this; she wouldn’t weep.

“You do not cry. Most girls would shed tears over a mother’s loss.”

She answered—quietly, almost to herself—with the mantra that Cleopatra had seized on years ago, when her first brother had been born and their mother had lost interest in her girls: “‘The one named mother is not the child’s true parent but the nurturer of the newly sown seed. Man mounts to create life, whereas woman is a stranger fostering a stranger—’”*

“Those are your sister’s words, not your own.”

“Those are Aeschylus’s words, not Cleopatra’s,” Arsinoe quipped, blinking away her tears. Bereft of mother and father, sister and brothers, she felt a stab of loneliness. Only the eunuch and the nurse remained to her now.

“You have me, my dear.” Ganymedes squeezed her hand. She pulled away. His kindnesses alarmed her. He wasn’t one for tenderness; he was harsh, impenetrable. And so when he reached for her, she knew how wholly her world had changed.

“Ganymedes.” She took a deep breath. She couldn’t mourn her mother, or her father, or the others who’d cut her away, leaving her untethered here in Alexandria. Not now, when she wanted so very much to be brave. “What must I do?”

“My dear, dear girl.” His face softened. “You must return to your chambers at once. Tonight, after the moon has risen over the palace, I’ll come for you. Make no preparations for our departure, and don’t breathe a word of this to anyone.”

“Not even to Myrrine?” She’d kept secrets from her nurse before, but they’d always been of her own making. Like when she and Cleopatra had broken the Minoan vase that had been gifted to her great-grandfather, and they’d blamed it on their baby brother, too young to speak up for himself.

“No, not to Myrrine, nor to your guards. Remember now, my dear: you can no longer distinguish friends from foes.”

“Like Odysseus, when he returns to Ithaca and sees that many of his former friends court the faithful Penelope?” It helped to imagine herself as Odysseus, as a man grown and strong.

“Yes, precisely like that, Arsinoe.”

She didn’t smile at her guards as they escorted her back to her chambers. Usually, she’d make jokes, teasing them and trying to crack their stone faces with laughter. She’d tug at Achilles’s curls or poke at the gaps in Agamemnon’s armor, the place where his breastplate latched on either side. “I could pierce you with an arrow there,” she’d giggle. But today she was quiet. They, too, might be enemies. With Myrrine, she was so taciturn that her nurse declared she must be ill and tucked her into bed long before the sea had swallowed the last rays of the long summer sun.

After Myrrine’s steps had faded into the antechamber, Arsinoe rose. Quiet as a wildcat, she slipped across the room and pried open her great clothes chest. Her fingers lingered over the soft fabrics before she snatched one and yanked it out. Her pick wasn’t poor: a sky-blue tunic edged in silver. She hurried about the chamber, grabbing a few treasures to tie up in the cloth: the first book of The Odyssey, which she kept furled by her pillow; the jade necklace Cleopatra had given her from far-off Nubia; the stuffed doll she slept with every night. This last item she labored over—she was too old for such toys. For years, she’d hidden the doll beneath her bed during the day, shielding her even from her closest friends. But she couldn’t bring herself to part with her. Penelope had stayed with her always; Arsinoe couldn’t abandon the doll to Berenice’s men. She knotted the corners of the tunic’s skirt to each sleeve as she had seen her friend Aspasia do once when she had explained how the children in the Upper Lands hawk their wares.

And then Arsinoe waited. She knew she should lie in her bed, pretend this night was the same as every other. But she couldn’t trust herself to stay awake, and she didn’t dare sleep. Instead, she sat on the hard floor and stared out the window, willing Selene to climb the sky, to pass beyond the palace gates and up over the roof. Her eyelids grew heavy, but she stayed vigilant, blinking them open every moment or two.

The door squealed on its hinges. Arsinoe jumped up in fear, bundle clutched to her chest. She let out her breath: it was Ganymedes.

“Leave that,” the eunuch commanded. “I told you to bring nothing.”

She opened her mouth to object, but she held her tongue. Gently, she placed the blanket on her bed. “Farewell, Penelope,” she whispered. In silence, she followed the eunuch out into the antechamber. And there—there she met with horrors: Myrrine’s divan lay empty, and Agamemnon was sprawled across the stone, his head wrenched to one side and his lips stained with wine. Drugged or dead, she couldn’t tell. There was one goblet spilled, another upright, untouched. Her stomach turned and roiled, and she wanted to look away. He’d died. He’d died for her. And then she saw her other guard: Achilles stood upright, awake, alert. She gasped.

“It’s all right,” the eunuch told her. “You can trust him.”

Ganymedes led her past the royal chambers and into the servants’ passageways. Behind, her guard’s familiar step assured her. At each corner, the eunuch held his hand to bring their retinue to a halt until he’d peered around the end. She didn’t know how far they wandered through these lesser twists and turns.

The three fell into a marching step. Achilles, a soldier through and through, matched her eunuch’s stride; it took her three paces to equal each one of theirs. And so their drum sounded its quiet, bleating rhythm: hard, soft, soft, hard, soft, soft…A second hard cut between her two softs. She strained her ears to listen. It was nothing, she promised herself, the chasings of a forgotten dream.

But then she heard the sound again—louder, closer, near at hand. And Ganymedes’s step quickened. She raced to meet his new stride, but Achilles did not. His footfalls halted. The false ones did as well.

“Ganymedes,” she breathed. A sword whistled through the night air.


  • "We forget that Cleopatra was a Macedonian, her royal house a relic of the career of Alexander the Great. Where Cleopatra went to bed with Rome, her half-sister Berenice, at nineteen, tried to hold the Egyptian throne against it, while her sister Arsinoe, still a child, fought to hang on in the margins. Prophetic dreams, fraying family bonds, and desperate development of strength in crisis define this affecting work of historical fiction."—Zachary Mason, author of The Lost Books of the Odyssey
  • "A colorful tale full of the sights and smells of ancient Egypt, with palace intrigues populated by eunuchs, learned tutors, and slaves of every stripe."—Enid Shomer, author of The Twelve Rooms of the Nile
  • "Holleman richly resuscitates this ancient world of danger, illuminating the lives of the women of one extraordinary lineage and their audacious, overt scrambles towards power."—Kara Cooney, author of The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt
  • "The rich, exotic world created by Emily Holleman in her debut novel,CLEOPATRA'S SHADOWS, is mesmerizing. Intrigue, betrayal and the near-destruction of a dynasty follow in the footsteps of Cleopatra's little-known, but ambitious sisters, Arsinoe and Berenice. A perfect marriage of dedicated research and passionately inventive story telling."—Kathleen Kent, author of The Outcasts
  • "These characters lived and breathed their lives beyond the page and I could feel them in the room with me. Evocative, immersive and engrossing. I truly loved it."—Elizabeth Chadwick, author of The Summer Queen
  • "Readers will sympathize with Berenice as she battles formidable odds.... Holleman succeeds in teasing vivid throughlines from an incredibly complex period.... Her language, anachronism-free, artfully captures the matrix of myth and epic which nurtures and inspires her characters. A high-stakes family drama."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "Women have, throughout history, been secondary-often recorded (if at all) as complementary, or as muse to man's genius. But now, as modern societies are re-appraising the value of women, so too are books evolving to match. Readers are pulled into worlds previously closed off-full of tenacity, adventure, and scandal-page-turning, yes, but real.Cleopatra's Shadows reimagines Cleopatra's history through the perspective of her younger sister Arsinoe. We want these stories more than ever."—Meredith Turits, Vanity Fair
  • "An outstanding debut novel.... Some writers seem destined to unearth the truth of a time and a place and a set of people: Mary Renault and Alexander, Hilary Mantel and Thomas Cromwell and now Emily Holleman and the last generation of Ptolemies. The vivacity, the verve, the sense of bone deep truth of the writing-all are superb. There's a freshness to the prose that is truly captivating, and a dynamism to the narrative that gives life to the people whose names are otherwise a footnote in history."—Manda Scott, author of The Crystal Skull
  • "Breathing new life into these historical personalities.... ­Holleman offers a fresh take on the Ptolemy dynasty and has delivered what promises to be just the first in an exciting series about Arsinoe, youngest sister of Cleopatra."—Jane Henriksen Baird, Library Journal (starred review)
  • "Holleman artfully depicts real women of the ancient world, who used their own wits and wiles to maneuver among the most brilliant men of their age.... A triumphantly fresh tale for historians and casual fans alike."—Carly Silver,
  • "This historically detailed exploration of life on the Nile during the Ptolemy dynasty feels like a breath of fresh air after the 'Downton'-inspired wave of 20th-century historical fiction. Fans of Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles should take note."BookPage
  • "Historically detailed and multilayered.... With scintillating visual details of gorgeous palaces, rich temples, and the famous library of Alexandria, [Cleopatra's Shadows]evok[es] a world in which the ancient heroes Alexander and Odysseus-and Greek tragic characters such as Antigone-come to life.... Holleman's imaginative, textured portraits of the lives and ambitions of these little-known heroines will appeal to readers of historical and literary fiction alike."Publishers Weekly
  • "Riveting."—Steph Opitz, Marie Claire
  • "Holleman brings Alexandria to beautiful, spirited and, at times, tragic, life."—Mickey McAlary, Brooklyn Magazine
  • "Vivid [and] page-turning."—Redbook
  • "The story of Cleopatra has been told many times over, in many different ways, though there's a certain consistency to the tale's key elements - the seductiveness, the asp, the sultry kohl eyeliner.... Holleman break[s] free of the clichés dogging the last great pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt, the better to see her fresh.... Arsinoe and Berenice might be confined to the shadows of history, but here they are squarely in the limelight, powerful protagonists of their own dramas. They could easily give the women of Game of Thrones a run for their money."—Alexandra Schwartz, Salon
  • "Abundant historical references and details of court life create a strong setting for a dialogue-driven story.... The well-researched novel covers little known material from a fascinating historical period."—Booklist
  • "Vivid [and] page-turning."—Redbook
  • "Holleman break[s] free of the clichés dogging the last great pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt, the better to see her fresh.... [Arsinoe and Berenice] could easily give the women of Game of Thrones a run for their money."—Alexandra Schwartz, Salon
  • "Abundant historical references and details of court life create a strong setting for a dialogue-driven story.... The well-researched novel covers little known material from a fascinating historical period."—Booklist

On Sale
Jul 5, 2016
Page Count
352 pages
Back Bay Books

Emily Holleman

About the Author

Emily Holleman, a graduate of Yale University, spent several years as an editor for Salon-a job she left to follow Arsinoe and her quest for the throne of Egypt. Currently based in Brooklyn, she has devoted the past three years to reading and writing about the Ptolemies and is, like Arsinoe, a younger sister. She is the author of Cleopatra’s Shadows: A Fall of Egypt Novel.

Learn more about this author