I’ve read four books by Gillian Bradshaw so far: The Beacon at Alexandria, London in Chains, Island of Ghosts, and Hawk of May. I expect I’ll eventually read her whole backlist, if I can get my hands on it. She’s exactly the kind of historical fiction writer that I not only enjoy but respect, and those are rare enough that I’m always very glad to find another. Most of her books are Classical era, although London in Chains is English Civil War.
So, The Beacon at Alexandria is the first I read, and I loved it. There’s so much depth and complexity, and I really liked and connected with Charis. I was also quite impressed by the way Bradshaw treated St. Athanasius the Great–initially my heart sunk a little bit, because I am burned on people writing about early Christianity. But her portrayal was full of respect and even love for him. In fact, he holds the book together in some ways, and he definitely got some of the loveliest writing.
Then I read London in Chains, which didn’t impress me nearly as much, although it’s hard to see how it would. It probably doesn’t help that, at least in fiction, I tend to be a bit of a Royalist, and London in Chains definitely came across as pro-Revolutionary. However, I very very much liked the way Bradshaw treated Lucy, her main character, and her backstory. I’m trying to avoid spoiling it, so being intentionally vague here. It’s a subject I’ve never seen really looked at in historical fiction, though, despite being very real and present. Moreover, Bradshaw handles it, I thought, deftly, making Lucy’s struggle real without letting it take over her whole character.
Island of Ghosts was the next one I read, which was wonderful–I loved the barbarian look at Roman Britain. Bradshaw does a nice job of getting into Ariantes’ head and character, and of showing him as both part of and apart from his culture. He’s also a kind of character that I very much like: good people who make the best of rotten circumstances. Plus, there’s a quiet but very satisfying romance, and lots of political intrigue.
I just finished Hawk of May, the first of Bradshaw’s Arthurian trilogy, last night. These are her first published books, and in some ways it shows. I loved the take on Gwalchmai and Arthur, and the rest of the characters–and I am picky about my Arthurian retellings.* All of the marvelous complexity in her other books is there. But the sense of the everyday isn’t, and it seems (which I hadn’t realized until I thought about this book) that is essential for me to form an emotional attachment to a story. At any rate, I appreciated it without really loving it. I will probably finish the trilogy, just because. I’m also adding it to my historical fantasy page–yay!
* As a complete side note, it was really weird reading about a Medraut that wasn’t EWein’s, especially at first.