Archive for the ‘Gillian Bradshaw’ Category

This is a fine, well researched book of historical fiction, set in the grim times when the Roman Empire began its slow decline, many hundreds of years ago.

Good historical fiction–in addition to being entertaining!–gives us a glimpse of distant alien worlds, with alien ways; spectacularly brutal or spectacularly brilliant, people living like beasts or living in palaces, slaves and princes and ordinary folk. But, all people, just like us–which is so difficult for us to accept. How could people living so many centuries ago be like us, with our modern sensibilities, our fabulous devices and culture? But of course, they were. Their world was different, but they were humans just like us.

20120215-Fayum mummy portrait ffCharis is a young woman of wealth and good family, living in Ephesus—a city of immense history, going back thousands of years, but now a part of the Roman Empire. She has a passion for curing ills, and despite the constraints of her position is able to study the great medical texts of the age. The vicious and all powerful governor of the city suddenly appears at the house, her father is wrongly accused of treason, and in the ensuing horrible scene, Charis is unlucky enough to catch the governor’s attention. He demands her hand in marriage, and so horrified is she at the prospect that she decides to run away. Her brother helps her despite his very great misgivings—he deeply disapproves of such inappropriate behavior in his beloved sister, but he loathes and despises the Hippocratesgovernor. So, Charis dresses in man’s clothing and makes her way to Alexandria, where she manages to study medicine, her dream come true. Eventually, in the time honored way of such stories, she will meet a man and discard her disguise. But along the way we will see glimpses of ancient Alexandria: Charis rushing to school through the busy streets in the early morning–buying a roll of cumin bread to eat on the way–spending hours in the library; meeting her fellow students in taverns. Once a doctor, she travels to the edges of the empires, encounters a Goth tribe, has adventures–and finally comes to safe harbour.

So fascinating, to read an account of what it might have been like to live then. As the great empire falls to ruin, destroyed from within and without, the people continue to live as best they can. As always, as we do now.

Then, ’twas before my time, the Roman
At yonder heaving hill would stare:
The blood that warms an English yeoman,
The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.

There, like the wind through woods in riot,
Through him the gale of life blew high;
The tree of man was never quiet:
Then ’twas the Roman, now ’tis I.


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