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When We Were Gods: A Novel of Cleopatra

When We Were Gods: A Novel of Cleopatra

4.3 31
by Colin Falconer
Arrestingly beautiful and fiercely intelligent, Cleopatra VII of Egypt was barely more than a teenager when she inherited the richest empire in the world—one that stretched from the scorching deserts of lower Egypt to the shining Mediterranean metropolis of Alexandria. Imperiled at every turn by court conspiracies and Roman treachery, Cleopatra brazenly sought a


Arrestingly beautiful and fiercely intelligent, Cleopatra VII of Egypt was barely more than a teenager when she inherited the richest empire in the world—one that stretched from the scorching deserts of lower Egypt to the shining Mediterranean metropolis of Alexandria. Imperiled at every turn by court conspiracies and Roman treachery, Cleopatra brazenly sought a partnership with the only man who could secure Egypt’s safety: Julius Caesar, a wily politician and battle-hardened general with a weakness for women. The result was a passionate love affair that scandalized Rome and thrust Cleopatra into the glittering but deadly world of imperial intrigue and warfare—a world that she would mesmerize and manipulate even after Caesar was gone.

Colin Falconer takes the reader inside the walls of Alexandria’s great palaces and into Cleopatra’s very heart, creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable woman who thrived and triumphed in a world ruled by men. This is the glorious story of a legendary woman, a story that blazes through thousands of years of history to capture the imagination of readers today

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Falconer's (Rough Justice) swift-moving historical novel adds new twists and modern dialogue to an oft-told tragic tale. Fifty-one years before the birth of Jesus Christ, in the fertile Nile valley, 18-year-old Cleopatra ascends to the throne of Egypt upon the death of her father, Ptolemy XII. Inheriting a palace that more closely resembles a snake pit than a home, crowded with family and advisers, Cleopatra must come to terms with the heavy burden of royalty and its inevitable loneliness. Her only trusted friend is Mardian, the giant eunuch who has been her tutor since childhood. From an Egypt desperately attempting to retain its hold on ancient religions and traditions in a rapidly changing world, to the hypocritical halls of the Roman Republic, the young queen weaves her web of seduction, ensnaring not only the cold, driven Julius Caesar but also a playful Marcus Antonius. Falconer's Cleopatra is vulnerable, intelligent and liberated, defined by her wit as much as by her beauty. This fresh take on one of history's leading ladies is smoothly written, slickly couching ancient history in the contemporary rhetoric of female empowerment. (Dec.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
"The most complete woman ever to have existed, the most womanly woman and the most queenly queen, a person to be wondered at, to whom the poets have been able to add nothing, and whom dreamers find always at the end of their dreams." This is how Theophile Gautier described Cleopatra in 1845, and this is how she is portrayed by historical novelist Falconer in 2000. Over the centuries, the name Cleopatra has become synonymous with decadence, sensuality, and seduction. While it is true that she could claim both Julius Caesar and Marcus Antonius as lovers and fathers to her children, in this novel she is far more than a woman of mere physical passion. First and foremost, Cleopatra thought of herself as ruler of Egypt and worked tirelessly to preserve her nation in the never-ending battle against Roman imperialism. Although used ruthlessly by both Caesar and Marc Anthony in their pursuit of power, the brilliant Cleopatra was not to be pitied. In a prose style as provocative as the scent of Lebanese cedar and vivid as Eastern sun on white marble, Falconer interweaves the themes of power and politics, desire and love to form a web in which the rulers of the ancient civilized world walked a thin line between glory and utter destruction. Recommended.--Jane Baird, Anchorage Municipal Libs., AK Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.22(w) x 8.02(h) x 1.13(d)

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Darkness, cold stone under her fingertips, shadows dancing on the walls, torches flickering in the downdraught of the tunnels. So cold, and damp as death down here, and it was long moments before her eyes became accustomed to the darkness.

She heard them before she saw them, their sinuous coilings and cold slithering, as they retreated before the light of the torches. She felt her muscles freeze. She was unable to look away, her limbs paralyzed by the horror in the pit below. There were hundreds of them, countless deaths sliding upon and under, eyes glinting like chips of garnet. The executioner's storehouse.

There an asp, its tongue flicking in and out of its slit mouth in agitation, sensing their presence. Its bite caused agonizing pain that spread to the whole body, and the affected limb was soon covered with ugly purple blotches and swellings. Its victim soon began to retch, and then lost control of bladder and bowels. An ugly death, reserved for criminals who were to be doubly punished.

And there, its slender body banded with yellow and brown, the hooded cobra, the divine symbol of Upper Egypt, the royal emblem of pharaoh and Ptolemy alike. The Greeks called it basilisk, or little king. In the Book of the Dead the hooded cobra was the symbol for everlasting life.

Its bite was deadly but relatively painless. After a short time its victim's eyes began to droop, and then they fell quickly into a deep sleep from which they did not return. The fangs left two small marks from their bite, but there was no other disfigurement to the body, granting dignity in death. It was the way chosen for her older sister, Berenice, after she had rebelled against her father and tried to usurp his throne.

Now her father put his mouth close to his ear, she felt the wiry hairs of his beard tickle her face. "This is the world you have inherited," he whispered to her. "Every palace is filled with snakes, twice as deadly as these. You will live in such a nest all your life and you must learn to be as sinuous as these serpents, use your venom as wisely, and to strike without hesitation if you are to survive. Do you understand?"

"I understand," Cleopatra answered.

She was ten years old.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

COLIN FALCONER was born in North London. He is a former journalist and the author of three previous historical novels, which have been published in many languages throughout the world. He travels widely to research his novels but now lives in a small coastal town in western Australia.

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When We Were Gods 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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AnaMardoll More than 1 year ago
When We Were Gods / 978-0-307-42265-1 Falconer shows his prowess yet again at bringing history to life, in a vivid landscape, dominated by a powerful (and yet deeply politically vulnerable woman) who is frighteningly compelling. Falconer seems to specialize in strong women who are fundamentally unreliable narrators and sometimes anti-heroes and yet we are drawn to their courage and we admire their drive and ambition, even when we do not agree with their motives. You see this in "Feathered Serpent", as Malinali maneuvers the Spaniards to destroy her captors and their empire. You see this in "The Sultan's Harem", as the vicious Hurrem manipulates her husband and owner into demolishing his own kingdom. And now we see this in When We Were Gods, as Cleopatra struggles to survive and prosper as more than just a Roman fiefdom. Falconer woman are emotionally strong, and Cleopatra is no exception. Her romances with Julius Caesar and Marcus Antonius are initially motivated out of a fierce instinct for survival and a calculated gamble at something more - prosperity, greatness, lineage. Yet Cleopatra is not made of marble - she comes, over time and in spite of herself, to deeply and passionately love her two Roman "husbands" despite their betrayals. She comes to welcome their embraces, to continue to be shocked and hurt by their betrayals, and to cry at their deaths. Rome was a deeply racist culture in many ways, with laws against marrying foreigners or giving property to children of foreigners, and Falconer notes this in the treatment Cleopatra receives at the hands of her two Roman lovers. They will give her illegitimate children, but not their oaths of marriage. They will take her money and her army, yet they will not share their victories. Yet, despite all this, both men choose to overcome that tradition and upbringing and prove their faithfulness at the end - Julius, with an illegal will acknowledging his child; Antony, with refusal to save his own life by turning Cleopatra over to Octavian, even though he fears death. These men are truly strong, overcoming prejudices that have been ingrained in them from childhood, and Falconer praises them subtly for this feat, even through the veil of Cleopatra's fears and angers, the veil that makes her a compelling, yet unreliable narrator and forces us to weigh the actions of those around her against her interpretation of those actions and judge for ourselves. Falconer specializes in unreliable narrators, and we see this in Cleopatra. She is wise, intelligent, and cunning, but we cannot believe everything she tells us. She is not the goddess that she believes herself to be, and she is not always the wonderful mother that she has decided she is. Her intense frustration and hatred of men is understandable - she has been betrayed countless times - but she comes to realize that she has been unfair to men - and to Romans - late in the novel, when the man she thought was most faithless of all has instead been pining for his leprous wife for decades. It is then that Cleopatra realizes that male, female, Egyptian, or Roman are all tags and names that are meaningless - one either is or isn't faithful, depending on one's character and choices. This is, I think, the crux of Cleopatra - the realization that dynasties come and go, but humanity thrives on. ~ Ana Mardoll
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Arleghia More than 1 year ago
Just a warning to people whom know about language: poorly written, lack of vocabulary, way too many repetitions of words and phrases. Explicit descriptions of sexual kind are not what make a historical novel. Lack of accuracy, bad retelling of battles. I could go on and on. I read around 15 pages and the only reason why I did not throw it away is because I am a book lover and I could never do that.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
When We Were Gods is a beautiful story of Cleopatra but the writing style of the author is a bit unpolished. The best part for me was the ending. It touched my heart and I will always remember it. The book was good and the ending was it's strongest part.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book captured the essence and allure of Cleopatra while giving some good historical facts. I do however recommend all those in love with Cleopatra's life look within this book and many others to understand the Egyptian Beauty!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think that this book was disapppointing. cleopartra's personality and sexuality in particular were disappointing, i think it is because the author is a man who is trying to write from a woman's point of view. not to be sexist, but do men really knkow how women feel, think, and act? he did a good job trying, but in the end i felt like cleopatra was a lifeless puppet in this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was wonderful! Cleopatra is captivating and clever. Colin Falconer makes her out to be a plotting,intelligent goddess and savoir of egypt as well as an unforgettable, mesmerizing woman in a world ruled by men
Guest More than 1 year ago
i loved it. Cleopatra was brilliant, and he partrayed her that way. i thought he should have left out a few things that were...unnecesary... to assume a queen/goddess did some of the things he suggusted that she did was insulting to Cleopatra and egypt. but all and all it really was a great book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this story. I have never read anything about Cleopatra and really got into this book. The story was well-told and it's a quick and easy read. However, the author's style is a bit unpolished and he often uses the same descriptive words over and over. Not a literary masterpiece, but a solid and fun book that gets the imagination going.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A WONDERFUL book to the very end, I had trouble putting it down. This was really the best history,in novel form,I've ever read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Once I was able to erase Liz and Richard's faces from my mind I was able to visualize the picture that Mr.Falconer had drawn of the real Cleopatra. From the opening line to the unexpected twist at the end,I could not put this book down.Captivating to say the very least.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely devoured this book. I read it every spare moment I had . . . while eating breakfast, waiting in the drive-through bank line, on my lunch hour, every evening instead of watching TV . . . it was truly engrossing. I adore reading about ancient Egypt, and this was the first novel about Cleopatra that I've read--and I loved it, totally. It shows that Cleopatra wasn't just a seductress, she was a brilliant leader of her country, powerful, and yet a caring mother besides. I enjoyed the depiction of Rome back "in its heyday" as well as learning more about Ceasar and Mark Antony. An excellent book by an author now at the top of my list.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was non-stop. I could bearly tear myself away from it. It keeps you on the edge and guessing and hoping along with the wonderous woman known as Cleopatra. She really seemed like a wonderful woman. Colin Falconer did a really good job. He is now on my top author lists. Get this book, no doubt about it!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really like the way the author portrayed that Cleopatra loved MArk Antoney and Ceasar, like a lot of writers think she loved neither. That just makes her sound like a slut. Some of the story wasn't accurate, but how can you be about something we all know so little about. We can never tell the true feelings of these people. But honeslty I think the whole thing should have been told in first person. As for the author he did an okay job on how women think, for a man...
Guest More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down. It has been one of the best books I have read in a long time. The way that Falconer brought Cleopatra to life, is amazing. It captured her struggles with the Roman empire, keeping the throne and trying to ensure that her children became heirs to legacy. After reading this book I felt like I was an observer in her court. This is a must read!!! If you are a fan of Cleopatra this can not be passed up.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book is one of the best I have ever read and it gives you a really good insight to what happened during the time of the Roman and Egyptian empires
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book, and how it portrayed Cleopatra. The author set aside myths and told how Cleopatra and the other characters were most likley to truly be like. Cleopatra is shown as a caring yet catious, woman who only wanted a better life for her children and her country.