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The Beacon at Alexandria

4.22  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,059 Ratings  ·  89 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
Mar 24, 2013 Lee Anne rated it it was amazing
*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
Jul 30, 2015 Chrisl rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Top rank Bradshaw, a multiple re-read ... with a marginal review from someone at Kirkus.


Solid but not particularly stirring historical, from the author of an Arthurian trilogy (concluded with In Winter's Shadow, 1982). In A.D. 371, Valens is Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire at Constantinople. Cowardly, chariot-race-loving Theodoros, a consul at Ephesus, is disconcerted to be accused of treachery by ugly, low-born Imperial agent Festinus: Valens, it seems, is taking seriously a
Εξαιρετικό-μαγευτικό ιστορικό βιβλίο με υπέροχη γραφή και με μια υπέροχη μετάφραση. Από την αρχή μέχρι το τέλος η ανάγνωσή του ήταν απόλαυση. Η συγγραφέας εκτός από εξαιρετική ιστορικός είναι και μια έξοχη συγγραφέας. Η ηρωίδα της ζωνατνεύει μέσα από τις σελίδες του βιβλίου, καθώς και η Αλεξάνρεια, η Έφεσος, η Θράκη, οι μάχες, τα παλάτια. Κάθε φορά που διάβαζα ένιωθα τη μυρωδιά των ιατρικών βοτάνων και νόμιζα ότι θα εμφανισθεί ξαφνικά μια μεταμφιεσμένη σε ευνούχο κοπέλα με την οποία θα ανέλυα τη ...more
Jan 21, 2008 Phil rated it it was amazing
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
Riccarla Roman
Feb 04, 2011 Riccarla Roman rated it really liked it
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
Jun 23, 2013 Emmy rated it it was amazing
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
Rachel Neumeier
Jun 14, 2011 Rachel Neumeier rated it it was amazing
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
*NO LEAN LA SINOPSIS de la novela ! es un completo spoiler.*

Caris de Éfeso quiere aprender medicina, a pesar de las dificultades del siglo IV, ella hará lo imposible hasta cumplir con su deseo de aprender y ser médico.
Amé la novela! espero que la otras novelas de Gillian Bradshaw sean tan buenas como el faro de Alejandría! no es una novela centrada en romances, aunque si hay alguito por allí ;) .
Recomendada a todas las personas que le guste leer ficción- histórica.
Jul 07, 2009 Savannah rated it liked it
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.
Mar 06, 2016 Jennie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"...students of the period can still feel that the Fall of Rome was, for the West anyway, the greatest, perhaps, and most awful scene in the history of mankind."

This is my all-time favorite book. So much was lost in the Fall of Rome. This book takes place towards the beginning of the end. It all starts with the social normalcy of a household, and the women in that household. This book has lots of nasty stuff relevant to the time period. The brutality of slavery, sexism, violence, torture, and co
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Feb 23, 2011 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it really liked it
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
Jul 10, 2008 Amy rated it it was ok
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
Apr 10, 2011 Natalie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, wishlist
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
Feb 12, 2013 Michiel rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 07, 2007 Emiley rated it it was amazing
Shelves: generalfiction
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
Mar 17, 2010 Carol rated it really liked it
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
Dana Stabenow
Mar 08, 2016 Dana Stabenow rated it really liked it
I was supposed to do a bunch of stuff today. Instead I finished this book.

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.
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.
Jul 31, 2015 Regena rated it it was amazing
This is by far one of my favorite historical fiction novels. It follows Charis, a young girl from Ephesus, whose deepest wish is to escape from the role expected of her (marriage to a disgusting nobleman as old as her father for political and monetary gain), and study medicine. She travels throughout the Roman Empire, beginning at Alexandria, and through her we see a fascinating time of history, when Rome is beginning to wane, and the Goths are coming into power.

Charis is an extremely powerful f
Oct 15, 2015 Sabine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was so immersed into that book that I couldn't put it out of my hands. I read it first in the morning after I woke up, while breakfast, while driving to work via tram (missing my stop and accidently drove to the next district), while driving home from work, while eating dinner and before going to bed.
I loved the writing style of the author and how the time and place within the book was portraited. It is by far my favourite historical fiction book. It has the perfectly balanced combination betw
Jan 15, 2015 Mely rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015-read
Re-read. My favorite of Bradshaw's novels.
Apr 30, 2012 Mallory rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 19, 2014 KJ rated it really liked it
With every book I read, my respect for Gillian Bradshaw grows. It kills me to think that there are only a finite number of books one author can possibly produce, and that the world will, in time, run out of Bradshaw's brilliant historical fiction.

"The Beacon at Alexandria" tells that classic story: clever girl is threatened with marriage to a lout, girl cuts her hair and runs away... girl passes for a member of an established class of eunuchs... girl studies medicine in great Alexandria with a J
Jul 21, 2015 Briansmom rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 05, 2015 Anabel rated it really liked it
Libro encantador, esta novela mezcla ficcion e historia. Lo que mas me atrajo es el hecho de que no tiene un nudo sino que la historia progresa y nuevas cosas van sucediendo todo el tiempo: nuevas ciudades, nuevos personajes, nuevos problemas. Uno nunca se espera lo que viene después. Recomiendo.
Apr 30, 2014 Beth rated it it was amazing
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.
Apr 29, 2011 Joy rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 09, 2009 Katrina rated it really liked it
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
Feb 01, 2016 Evenstar rated it it was amazing
Once I got over the difficulty of pronouncing the Greek/Roman names, I really enjoyed this book. This well written and captivating book actually was filled with information about period medicine, social mores, geography of the time and political intrigue. I ended up researching additional information after reading this novel, just for the fun of it. The story, itself, was great, and I was up till 2 in the morning several nights, because I couldn't put the book down.
Barbara M
I tried to find this title again and again. This is one book I might read a second time! I don't do that too often. I read it ages ago and it has stayed with me all this time, but I couldn't remember the title until now.
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Reading Through T...: February 2015 Read: "The Beacon at Alexandria" 3 5 Feb 13, 2015 11:52AM  
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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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