Friday, October 07, 2005

The Beacon at Alexandria by Gillian Bradshaw

This book review is for Keishon's TBR challenge for September (which I finished barely under the wire). I think I discovered Bradshaw from someone on the AAR message boards quite a while ago (maybe Keishon?). I get tired sometimes of reading regency set historicals so occasionally I want to read a book set in an unusual period in history. The Beacon at Alexandria is a historical fiction set in the years just prior to 378 AD, the date of the battle of Hadrianopolis which signaled the beginning of the fall of the Roman Empire.

Copyright Year: 1986

Synopsis: The story begins in 371 AD and is told in first person by Charis of Epheseus, a young noblewoman from a wealthy family. Charis is a strong, intelligent character and chafes at women's traditional roles. In order to escape marriage to a brutal Roman official, Charis (now called Chariton) disguises herself as a eunuch and flees to Alexandria where she can pursue her dream to study the Hippocratic method of medicine at the famous Museum and become a physician.

This book is a highly entertaining adventure filled with political intrigue, early Christian theology, and little bit of romance near the end. This is a gender disguise novel that was very credible. As a woman one of the questions that I always pops in my head when reading these types of stories is "What does she do about her period?" :) This issue was addressed several times and I found it very interesting and believable. The accounts of medicines, diseases, treatments, food, clothing, slavery, and Roman politics and society are told in lively detail and was fascinating. Bradshaw is a classics scholar and she crams in many historical characters but it never seemed forced. My greatest difficulty was trying to decipher all the Greek and Latin names which all started to sound alike sometimes (e.g. Adamantios, Athanaric, Athanaricus, Athanasios, Amalberga, Alaric, Thorion, Theodoros, Theogenes, Theophilia, etc.)

Chariton meets agent Athanaric and saves his life. Then Athanaric saves her life when she gets involved in dangerous church politics and is forced to flee Alexandria. Still maintaining her disguise she accepts the position of chief physician at a remote army post in Thrace. Eventually, she is captured by the Goths and her gender is revealed. But as their prisoner she continues to care for the sick and wounded until Athanaric rescues her. In the final pages even though they learn of the disastrous battle at Hadrianopolis, the book ends happily when they admit their love for each other and make future plans.

The politics in Alexandria were a bit heavy, but when Chariton is posted to Thrace the book really gets lively and I had a hard time putting it down and read late into the night. This was a great historical adventure story and I recommend it to all history buffs like me.

Your Grade: B+

New author for you? No, I read Render Unto Caesar and loved it (Grade: A).

Would you read more of this author's work? Yes, I was thinking of trying Cleopatra's Heir or The Wolf Hunt.

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