The Beacon at Alexandria
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The Beacon at Alexandria

4.27 of 5 stars 4.27  ·  rating details  ·  773 ratings  ·  69 reviews
In the Fourth Century A.D., independent and determined young Charis is forbidden to become a doctor because she is a woman. Disguising herself as a eunuch she flees Ephesus for Alexandria, then the center of learning. There she apprentices to a Jewish doctor but eventually becomes drawn into Church politics and is forced once again to flee. She serves as an army doctor at...more
Paperback, 376 pages
Published July 1st 2003 by Soho Press (first published 1986)
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Lee Anne
*Do NOT read the synopsis on the back of the book/goodreads—gives away the entire story. Literally. The whole plot.*

It’s been almost ten years since I read this book for the first time, and it still has a powerful hold on me. I can’t explain exactly why it is a favorite; sure, it has the bold and brave girl-who-disguises-herself-as-a-boy in order to do what she loves, but it’s so much more than that. Charis is one of those characters that I can’t help loving and rooting for, and her journey dur...more
Riccarla Roman
I love history, but lately I've been reading a lot of Tudor England books. This book was completely different in time period, but the desire for sex, money, and power was still the same.

Charis of Ephesus is the daughter of a prominent citizen of Ephesus. Her brother wants to be a lawyer and she wants to be a physician. Of course, this is not possible in Ephesus a of centuries after Christ.

The new governor accuses her father of possibly trying to overthrow the Emperor. Her quick thinking helps he...more
Phil
Jan 21, 2008 Phil rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Historical fiction fans
This is a novel about an aristocratic girl, Charis, in Ephesus around 380 AD. Her father wants to marry her to a crony of the Emperor Valens, who has been appointed governor of the province. Festinus is a cruel and sadistic man and to avoid the marriage Charis cuts her hair, disguises herself as a eunuch (changing her name to Chariton) and flees to Alexandria to study medicine. Chariton is a prodigy and becomes the personal physician to the Nicene bishop Anthanasius (lauded by Gibbon) and involv...more
Savannah
It is very difficult to make a self-determined female in an historical setting not seem, at best, oxymoronic and at worst a puppet of modern sensibilities. Somehow, Gillian Bradshaw manages it in this eloquent, slow-moving yet motivating read about a woman who studies medicine in an otherwise restrictive world, eventually needing to disguise herself as a eunuch in order to continue practicing, while fighting an attraction to a male who may or may not understand her.
Amy
I finally finished "The Beacon at Alexandria" by Gillian Bradshaw. It took me a really long time to read this book. I liked it fairly well, but it was long. It is only 350 pages long, but it felt like forever. Basically it is a story of a young woman in Ephesus during the third century who runs away from her about to be arranged marriage and goes to Alexandria to become a doctor. The rest of the story is her career and attempts to remain disguised as a eunuch. The idea was a good one, but I foun...more
Michiel
Feb 12, 2013 Michiel rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who likes history
Recommended to Michiel by: goodreads
This is the kind of book that, once I find it, makes me so happy. I had never heard of this author or this boook had it not been for Goodreads. The only thing I didn't like was that it had to end.

Charis is a young noblewoman of Ephesus during the early Christian era. The Church is rife with heresies, and the Empire is split and beset with barbarian hoardes. Against this background, Charis works to pursue her dream of becoming a medical doctor.

To tell the truth, that description doesn't do a lot...more
Emiley
Gillian Bradshaw is an outstanding author of historical fiction; she studied classics at Cambridge and her attention to detail is reflected in her novels. Beacon at Alexandria describes the trials of Charis of Ephesus, who dreams of studying medicine in the 4th century Roman Empire and diligently reads Hippocrates. Threatened by an impending engagement, she manages to disguise herself as a eunuch and travel to Alexandria and fulfill her lifelong dream. As time passes, she also begins to realize...more
Rachel Neumeier
Gillian Bradshaw is my favorite historical author, hands down, and this is my favorite book of hers. It's one of the books I reach for when I need something to read for just a minute -- and one of the ones I usually wind up reading straight through (again) because I can't leave it unfinished.

Charis is a wonderful character; the world building is exquisite; the romance is handled subtly and beautifully and doesn't take over the book -- not only did I just re-read BEACON for the fifth or sixth tim...more
Carol
This well written historical novel is set during the late 4th century in the eastern branch of the declining Roman Empire and tells the story of Charis, a woman who disguises herself as a eunuch in order to study medicine in Alexandria. She is very intelligent and talented and becomes a very good and successful doctor, but because of political machinations ends up being sent to Thrace to administer an army hospital. I particularly liked the strong, appealing characters and the comparison between...more
Joy
Re-read 7/1/09. I continue to re-read my favorites of Bradshaw's novels, and am glad to discover that this one is also as good as I remember. Bradshaw is very good at drawing out all the complexities of Charis's situation: there are no easy solutions in which Charis gets to have it all. I suspect I should be a bit cynical about the romance subplot (which fortunately does not take over the entire book), but I guess I'm secretly sentimental about such things after all.
Emmy
Really wonderfully done. 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 mourned the empire's demise with the characters. I felt powerfully for many of the characters throughout the story. Particularly in the second half of the book, I was literally heartbroken for Charis at the idea of how unfair i...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Feb 23, 2011 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Lovers of Historical Fiction
I probably love this more than it deserves so feel torn how I should rate it. Is this a deathless historical classic such as Gone With the Wind, Name of the Rose or I, Claudius? No. Neither its style nor an ability to place me in a foreign, alien mindset places it in five star territory. Is this book and are Bradshaw's works in general great favorites I out and out love? You betcha.

Charis, the heroine and narrator of the tale is arguably too modern in her outlook--but it doesn't stop me from lo...more
Mallory
The intriguing story of a young Ephesian woman named Charis who avoids a marriage arranged by her father by disguising herself as a eunuch (Chariton) and escaping to Alexandria to learn and practice her one true love – medicine and doctoring. Or, as it was more beautifully called during the 300s A.D., the art of healing. Living as a man is not easy for her at first, but Charis is able to closely guard her secret from almost all as she studies to become a doctor. The irony is that, even as a eunu...more
Natalie
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...more
Briansmom
This is a terrific book. I picked it up because I previously read Anne Perry's "The Sheen on the Silk," and a review here had stated that this book was better. I not only agree wholeheartedly but think that Ms. Perry ripped off Gillian Bradshaw's better, earlier written, book. The story here is engaging, and Charis' character is well-developed. I identified with her as a victim of fourth century cultural norms and her desire to be the master of her own destiny. The story has lots of twists and t...more
Beth
Physician heroine of Roman Empire is a fascinating character study, historical detail is at its best, medical/herbal practice of Hippocrates and outstanding explanation of religious, political, cultural and ethnic forces that shaped the Euro-Asian world during 300 CE woven into a great storyline.
Joy
One of my favorite books of all time. Charis, an Ephesian aristocrat, flees an unwanted marriage with a brutal official, by disguising herself as a eunuch and going to Alexandria to study medicine. Once she becomes a doctor, a series of coincidences lead her to becoming the personal physician to Athanasius (yes, THAT Athanasius), catapulting her into undesired political intrigue. Her adventures will take her past the borders of the late Roman Empire, and lead her into both adversity and love. Br...more
Katrina
Jul 09, 2009 Katrina rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Fans of Historical Fiction or Women in History
Bradshaw's conversational writing style hooks you immediately and takes you into the vast Roman empire shortly before its downfall, makes you feel as if you're really there, by focusing on one young woman, Charis, and her struggle to find her identity and be true to herself. The characters are people you wish you knew, the situations Charis finds herself in keep you on the edge of your seat, and the incredibly researched detail and descriptions add depth to the narrative without ever overpowerin...more
scarlettraces
this was always one of my favourites, although i didn't obsessively reread it as i did some of the other loved historical fiction of my teens and early twenties (the Lymond books, M M Kaye's Trade Wind). and it is as good as i remembered, even though i only remembered the love among the Goths part and not the student life in Alexandria part. recommended for anyone who prefers their history to be obscure and, preferably, lacking in Important Historical Personages and their heroines to be practica...more
Kelly
This book had everything I look for in a book: a female protagonist who is not defined by her femaleness. Someone who has a calling in her life (in this case the calling to be a doctor) and will let nothing stop her from practicing her art. It has romance, which is not the primary focus of her life (nor the source of great anguish; she deals with it and still does her job, which is awesome). Charis (the main character) is practical, driven, passionate, rational, and just wonderful. I couldn't pu...more
Tucker
Good epic about a teenage girl of noble birth in the eastern part of the Roman empire in the fourth century. To avoid marrying a violent suitor and to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor, she disguises herself as a eunuch and sails for Alexandria. The characters infuse the story with details from contemporary intellectual history.

For a similar storyline, refer also to Anne Perry's The Sheen on the Silk: A Novel.
Lindsay
Interesting story and told with lots of historical detail.
Betsey
Yes, good. I greatly enjoyed all the parts of the story of Charis. Only don't read more than the first sentence by goodreads or you'll known the full story!!
Dana Stabenow
I was supposed to do a bunch of stuff today. Instead I finished this boo,.

Charis of Ephesus in 371AD is about to be married off to the odious local governor and runs off to Alexandria to become a doctor instead. Historical fiction at its best, great characters and a you-are-there setting that makes you feel like you're living then. Her street scene descriptions are some of the best I've ever read. In a sane world books like this one would never be out of print.
RachelAnne
Gillian Bradshaw does a fabulous job of bringing the fourth-century Roman Empire vividly to life as noble-born Charis, disguised as a eunuch, travels from Ephesus to Alexandria to the army outposts and Visigoth encampments in Thrace. The myriad details about ancient medical practice, early church politics, military and Jewish daily life are fascinating, yet woven seamlessly into a suspenseful, character-driven novel that moves at a satisfying clip.
Emma Glaisher
A really enjoyable read. I was always more interested in classical Greek civilisation, but now want to find out more about the Roman Empire. Scary to be in at the beginning of the end!

No major surprises in this book, but it's not written for that. Plenty of exciting adventures, lots of medicine, and a little love. And loads of fascinating historical insight. Not quite Mary Renault, but a worthy companion.
Mary Fahnlander
Apr 03, 2008 Mary Fahnlander rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: historical fiction lovers
Recommended to Mary by: Amazon.com reading list
I discovered this author because of a booklist I happened onto in Amazon.com. and have read several of her books since. She's a scholar of the early Roman period and a great storyteller. This one is about a young woman who runs away from an arranged marriage and hides her female identity in order to study medicine. All her books are "page-turners" that teach you a lot about the period in the process.
Melanie
I had no idea what to expect from this book; however, it turned out to be a gem of a novel. A very well told story.
Carol
It was most fun to read about a woman who wants to be a Healer (doctor) in ancient times. In some countries, it was allowed and encouraged, but in most cases, it was unheard of. By pretending to be a Eunuch, the protagonist gets a start in education. The obstacles continue, however. If I say too much, I'll give too much away. Enjoy the story.
Nell
I'm so glad I found this book, even thought I had to buy it second hand since it's out of print! The author truly immersed me in 4th century and carried me along a very exciting journey. I highly recommend this book to anyone that is interested in the history of the early church during the roman era but also those who just like a tale well told.
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Born in Arlington, Virgina, Gillian Bradshaw grew up in Washington, Santiago, Chile and Michigan. She is a Classics graduate from Newnham College, Cambridge, and published her first novel, Hawk of May, just before her final term. A highly acclaimed historical novelist, Gillian Bradshaw has won the Hopwood Award for Fiction, among other prizes. She lives in Cambridge with her husband and their four...more
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