I wanted to read The Hand of Isis because I love historical fiction, but it was with some trepidation that I actually began reading it. I mean, I've read a lot of historical fiction about this period ~ from a YA novel read in my youth to McCullough's version and many in between. To be honest, I thought it might turn into just another rehash of the tawdry life and love affairs of Cleopatra. Plus, I'm not a fan of first-person novels. What a pleasant surprise, then, to find The Hand of Isis was really good ~ well-written, with fully developed, interesting characters, and a detailed and historically accurate plot that brought the politics, time period, and Alexandria to life. Plus, I really liked the element of mysticism that was introduced.
This story of three sisters facing the world and their fates together, was charming even as it was tragic. Being myself the eldest of four sisters, I especially liked the closeness and the acceptance of each others' strengths and weaknesses displayed by the three sisters: Cleopatra, Iras, and Charmian. Charmian, the narrator, was easy to like, flaws and all. I did find the seminal scene with Agrippa a bit unrealistic considering Charmian's generally kindly nature, but without a huge misunderstanding like that he wouldn't be as likely to turn out as he did. I also found Dion and Emrys wonderfully realized, and the relationship between the two of them and Charmian was beautiful. Cleopatra, at least in the beginning, was well-realized and surprisingly likeable. Later on, I thought what she did with Marcus Antonius went pretty much against her nature as earlier described, although I imagine it's possible that the tragedy she experienced on her way back to Egypt from Rome effected her in such a way that her later actions are more believable. I'm afraid I didn't get much of a feeling for Iras, which is a shame, as she was a strong, memorable character yet I felt she wasn't as fully developed as the others.
I admit that it took me awhile to get to the point where the novel grabbed me; although I enjoyed it from the beginning, it didn't hook me until about page 200. Then, I couldn't put it down and read the last 282 pages in one big gulp.
As one LT reviewer has noted, being written from an Egyptian point of view rather than a Roman one was refreshing and made some of the Egyptians' behavior much more comprehensible. I also found the juxtaposition of Eastern and Western philosophies well done, and thought the supernatural aspects a wonderful touch. I also liked the portrayal of Isis, a goddess with three aspects. Finally, there were some pretty raunchy sex scenes. I didn't have a problem with them, although I didn't find them all that necessary. I tend to skim over most sex scenes anyway.
Only regret is that I didn't read Black Ships first, although I'm told it's not necessary, just that it might have added to my enjoyment. All in all, The Hand of Isis rocks, and I highly recommend it to everyone who enjoys historical fiction, strong female (and male) characters, and legendary times brought to life.