The Beacon at Alexandria

The Beacon at Alexandria

by Gillian Bradshaw

In the Fourth Century A.D., independent and determined young Charis is forbidden to become a doctor because she is a woman.

There she apprentices to a Jewish doctor but eventually becomes drawn into Church politics and is forced once again to flee.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Historical
  • Rating: 4.23
  • Pages: 376
  • Publish Date: July 1st 2003 by Soho Press
  • Isbn10: 1569470103
  • Isbn13: 9781569470107

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The whole plot.* Its been almost ten years since I read this book for the first time, and it still has a powerful hold on me. Charis is one of those characters that I cant help loving and rooting for, and her journey during the declining years of the Roman empire is both vivid, uplifting, and sad. Disguising herself as a eunuch (which makes the story a lot more believable than the typical girl-dressed-up-as-a-boy), she travels to Alexandria, where she hopes to study medicine at the famed university.

Horrified, Charis--who wants to be a doctor, a profession forbidden to women--rejects the vile Festinus and, with her brother Thorion's connivance, flees to Alexandria, center of the healing arts. Alexandria, however, is seething with religious strife, as the powerful, popular Bishop Athanasios continues to rebuff Imperial attempts to oust him; during an interview he divines Chariton's secret but agrees not to divulge it. Here, among other complications, Chariton's career comes to a head: she kills a would-be rapist; she's reunited with brother Thorion, now an Imperial governor; eventually she's revealed as a woman, but continues to practice her art; and, Finally, Athanaric beholds the real Charis, and love blossoms.

She also nurses a secret passion for Fritigern's cousin, Athanaric, who serves as a special agent of the Roman Emperor.When the Visigoths are allowed to cross the Danube to flee the onslaught of the Huns corrupt Roman officials cause them to revolt and Chariton falls into their hands, where she is revealed to be a woman. After the battle of Adrianople, which ends in the total destruction of the Roman army in the Balkans and the death of the Emperor Valens, Athanaric rescues Charis from the Goths and they live happily ever after.

When Charis, a fifteen year old girl living in Ephesus in the middle of the fourth century finds herself betrothed to a powerful but sadistic man, she flees to Alexandria and, instead of domesticity, pursues her interest in medicine.

The last line in the epilogue literally left me with chills: "the Fall of Rome was, for the west anyway, 'the greatest, perhaps, and most awful scene in the history of mankind."' Coming on the heels of this story, it was really excellently done. I felt powerfully for many of the characters throughout the story.

It took me a really long time to read this book. I liked the idea and the premise of the book, but the writing style was not exciting enough to make the book a truly enjoyable read.