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The Throne of Isis
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Tarr, the author of numerous fantasy novels, revisits the Egypt of The Lord of Two Lands (Tor, 1993) in this story of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Seduction, power, politics, and magic are the order of the day. The narrator is Dione, cousin to Cleopatra and high priestess of Isis. The historical facts of Cleopatra and Antony's liaison and their eventual defeat by Octavian are already well recorded, so it is Dione's circumstances and observations that are most interesting here. We learn of Dione's marriage to Lucius Servilius, a Roman senator and augur (i.e., priest); the pair's priestly duties and magical powers; Dione's son's upbringing; the clash of cultures Dione's life embodies; and the Hellenic, Roman, and ancient (even to them) Egyptian cultures. Despite these evocative details, Cleopatra is well represented in the historical fiction genre, so this is recommended only for large collections.-- Mary Ann Parker, California Dept. of Water Resources Law Lib., Sacramento

The author of Lord of the Two Lands brings to her newest novel the potentially potent combination of doomed lovers, crafty politicians and exotic settings. But Tarr's lethargic handling of these ingredients, coupled with an inability to animate one of history's most famous couples, dooms much of this book to tedium. Antony and Cleopatra, whose dalliance spans a decade, meet in 41 B.C. and immediately merge passion with politics. Cleopatra wants land, Antony wants ships; both encounter complications. Antony is saddled with a vindictive wife and an ambitious co-ruler, Octavian, in Rome. Civil war looms. Although major characters remain one-dimensional (Antony, for example, is portrayed as merely a drunken lout), Cleopatra's prescient cousin, Dione, sparks the story with her exuberant personality and manages to present a unique perspective on background events. She is joined in her pessimistic reading of signs and portents by Roman augur Lucius Servilius, an engaging figure whose stiff Roman pride crumbles before Dione's charms, and the two visionaries embark on a sizzling romance. Unfortunately, however, some finely rendered details of Egyptian life and one spirited love affair are not enough to rescue this effort. (Apr.)

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