Title: Hand of Isis
Author: Jo Graham
Release Date: March 23, 2009
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
From the back cover:
Set in Ancient Egypt, Hand of Isis is the story of Charmian, a handmaiden, and her two sisters. It is a novel of lovers who transcend death, of gods who meddle in mortal affairs, and of women who guide empires.
Hand of Isis is a unique look at the reign of Cleopatra, the last of the Ptolemy Pharaohs of Egypt. It is told through the eyes of Charmian, one of Cleopatra’s handmaidens and also her half-sister. Charmian is a capable and strong woman who, along with their other half-sister Iras, helps Cleopatra through the trying times that she must face, from her struggle to gain the throne to her troubles with Rome.
The history in Hand of Isis is very well researched and meticulously crafted. Graham obviously spend a great deal of time studying Cleopatra’s history and the events surrounding her reign.
Charmian herself is a well-developed character. I sympathized with her and felt her emotions while I was reading. Graham did an excellent job crafting a voice that readers could identify with. Charmian makes a great narrator; it’s very interesting to experience familiar events from an entirely new perspective. I found myself reluctant to move forward in the story at some points because I knew what was coming. Graham’s foreshadowing actually helps with this; it helps the reader to accept that what happened was meant to occur. History couldn’t happen any other way.
The sexuality in the book is…well, it’s interesting to say the least. It’s very open, and at some points, surprising. (I’m specifically thinking of a menage a trois scene.) An interview in the back of Hand of Isis asks Jo Graham why she portrayed Charmian as so sexually liberated. Graham responds that people of that era were often more open to their sexuality. She wanted to portray that faithfully. While I could have done without that whole storyline, it doesn’t really take anything away from the novel as I see it.
I enjoyed Hand of Isis, but I wished it could be more detailed. This was most definitively Charmian’s story, not Cleopatra’s. Iras is somewhat sidelined as the story progresses, and there are significant time jumps that are glossed over. Of course, this is necessary during a reign as long as Cleopatra’s, but I would have enjoyed more focus on the history and events surrounding Charmian, even if they are simply filler. Of course, the novel is already over 500 pages; I have to ask myself, how much more did I really want?
Hand of Isis has enough historical fiction to satisfy any fan, and its mystical qualities will delight fantasy fans as well. I enjoyed this book and am eager for Jo Graham’s next novel, which supposedly will be about the Alexander the Great!
Thank you to the publisher for sending me this book to review!