I was first interested in reading ‘Cleo’ because of its obviously Egyptian themes. I’ve only read one other book on the subject, ‘The Red Pyramid’ by Rick Riordan, and was interested to see how another author transformed the mythology. To place Cleopatra in a YA setting sounded like an excellent idea, and I was looking forward to being immersed in the land of sand, gods and temples. But, (I know, I know, why does there always have to be a but?) I had a few issues with the execution. Let’s discuss!
First of all, ‘Cleo’ seemed to have a resolute plot. The slogan is ‘one throne, three sisters, this is war’, so you can already guess there’s going to be a power struggle. The blurb also talks about a prominent love interest, Khai, so I was looking forward to how that played out. To begin with, I thought Cleo was going to go on this epic journey to return to her rightful place as Princess of Egypt, guided by Isis. She was Chosen, after all. Unfortunately, it just felt like Cleo was moving from one place to another with not a lot in between.
I think I’d compare this book to ‘Deep Blue’ by Jennifer Donnelly. Both books are so caught up in the mythology they’re telling, be it mermaids or gods, that I lost track of the plot. In the end, it turned out to just be a book about Cleo, and not a lot else.
The one thing I thought was excellent about ‘Cleo’ was the use of sensory description and feeling to really make the reader feel like they were in Egypt. I loved all the references to the food they ate and the clothes they wore, who was worshipped and the types of clerical position available…it was just a totally rich setting that really helped me to get into the story, almost literally!
Another thing that stood out was the relationship between Cleo and her slave, Charm, who was also her best friend. Whereas you’d think there’d an obvious hierarchy, it was obvious that both girls really cared and valued each other. Cleo wasn’t vapid or selfish, she was really devoted to what she was doing and the quest she had to go on. I definitely enjoyed her as a protagonist.
However, I felt that the narrative was slightly juvenile. Again, like ‘Deep Blue’, I think this book would be more successful marketed solely at a middle grade audience. It’s not filled with fight scenes, or overtly romantic relationships. I felt like I was trying to hard to look for something below the surface, when I should have just enjoyed the book at face value. Khai and Cleo’s relationship doesn’t teach anything about sacrifice or communication, which was disappointing, seeing as the relationship was, if the blurb is to be believed, supposedly a large part of the story.
Overall, I wanted to give ‘Cleo’ 3 stars, but could only give it 2 stars. There have been books I’ve given three stars that I’ve enjoyed a whole lot more than this, and, being honest, I ended up skimming the last third of the book. Apparently this is the first in a series, but I don’t think I’ll continue on. That’s not to say that ‘Cleo’ wasn’t enjoyable. Actually, there were a lot of elements that made the story like Cinderella, as Cleo was the reject, with three sisters. I’d recommend it, but only to perhaps 13 years and under!