Book ReviewGillian Bradshaw's Byzantium
by Avelina of Moncrieff
The Beacon at Alexandria (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 1986. ISBN 0-395-41159-9)
The Bearkeeper's Daughter (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 1987. ISBN 0-395-43620-6)
Imperial Purple (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 1988. ISBN 0-395-43635-6)
Many of the readers may already be familiar with Gillian Bradshaw's work as an historical novelist from her Arthurian series (Hawk of May, Kingdom of Summer, In Winter’s Shadow). She recently has published three new novels, all set in the early years of the Eastern Roman empire (4th, 5th, and 6th centuries). All three are well-researched and interesting reading. These books are not in a series and can be read in any order. Unfortunately, they have not been as widely distributed as they might have been, and are (so far) available only in hardcover editions. Check your local library and/or interlibrary loan service for these titles, or keep an eye out for them on the remainder tables. I managed to find one of them that way.
The Beacon at Alexandria is set in the 4th century A.D. during the reigns of Valentinian and Valens. The story concerns a young woman from Ephesus, who goes to Alexandria disguised as a eunuch in order to study medicine. After completing her studies in Alexandria, she goes on to Thrace as an army doctor. The story is brought to a satisfactory conclusion as Hadrianopolis falls and the Huns loom as a threat to the empire.
The Bearkeeper’s Daughter takes place during the reign of Justinian and Theodora and in fact concerns them closely. The main character is John, an unacknowledged son of Theodora (born before she became empress). Most of the action takes place in Constantinople and includes much of the court’s inner workings and the intrigue of the royal households, as John tries to avoid getting involved in plots regarding the royal succession.
Imperial Purple concerns Demetrias, a silk weaver and her husband, Symeon, a purple fisher, both of Tyre. They get entangled in a plot to overthrow the emperor Theodosius II, and spend most of the story trying to get untangled. The cast of characters includes Theodosius, Pulcheria (the emperor’s powerful sister), and Chrysaphios (the emperor’s chamberlain). This story takes place in the years preceding Theodosius’ death in 450 A.D.
I strongly recommend these three novels. They are excellent historical novels with interesting characters firmly set in the early Christian era. I am looking forward to Gillian Bradshaw’s next publications.