The Beacon at Alexandria
by Gillian Bradshaw
Genre: Historical Fiction
Ages: 13 and up
Charis is a wealthy young maiden of Ephesus, she is lovely, intelligent and altogether obsessed with the art of medicine. With the help of her brother and her old nursemaid, she flees marriage with a brutal man who accused her father of treason and tortured her friends. For her, it turns out to be the chance of a lifetime. She disguises herself as a eunuch and travels to Alexandria, the world's capitol of medicinal knowledge. Apprenticed to a true Hippocratic, she enters a world of wounds, herbs, illness and dissections, and she found that practicing the art of healing was what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.
Eventually, she found herself working as the personal physician to Athanasios in his last months of life. When he passes away, Alexandria is thrown into turmoil. There are riots in the street and Charis, called Chariton, is right in the middle of it all.
Gillian Bradshaw is brilliant when it comes to capturing the feel of ancient times. Athanasios is fascinating, as is the theological war that was waged between the Arian and Nicene factions within the Christian church of the time.
I confess that I have always found stories in which a girl disguises herself as a boy to be immensely entertaining, and this one was more realistic in the sense that she was pretending to be a eunuch rather than an entirely male person. I always love the moment of dawning comprehension when someone inevitably discovers the truth, especially if it is the person the lady is in love with. :) There are several parallels to Twelfth Night in this novel, and as a lover of Shakespeare I liked that. (There is a character named Duke Sebastianus who came from Illyria, as well as a few scenes with clear Shakespearean influence. However, the story and romance are completely different.)
This book also has a couple of rather different and unusual marriage proposals, some more welcome than others. :)
The language is pretty mild, the s-word is used a few times but not as an expletive so I give it a 3.10.
There are a couple of scenes of violence, several references to torture and an attempted rape so I give it a 5.10.
There are several sexual references and some innuendos as well as a fade-away and some unwelcome touching, so it rates a 5.10