bookish posts reviews

Gillian Bradshaw

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.

By Maureen LaFerney

My name is Maureen. I currently work as a library assistant in a public library in the Indianapolis area, and also just so happen to be a voracious reader. I frequently end up under a cat.

14 replies on “Gillian Bradshaw”

Yes, one thing that annoyed me about the Naamah trilogy is the Sexually Repressed Evil Early Christian Dude in the second book. I didn’t know anything about Athanasius before I read Beacon, but I loved the way Bradshaw handled his character.

On the Incarnation is fairly integral to Orthodox Christian theology and philosophy, so I was a bit familiar with his thought, but not his life.

And yes, I feel like people project whatever they think about Christianity onto the Early Christians, rather than portraying them as they actually were. Bradshaw is a shining exception.

My priest recommended “Beacon” to me, and I loved it. The others of hers that I have read are “The Bearkeeper’s Daughter” about St. Theodora, and “Imperial Purple.”
I agree strongly that I get a bad taste in my mouth when early Christian religious (or actually current, even) are portrayed as lechers. Blech.

I think I’m going to finish the Arthurian trilogy first, but I might try The Bearkeeper’s Daughter after that.

Yeah…or when people set books in Orthodox countries and make terrible mistakes. Sigh.

Oh, thanks, Sondy! I hadn’t quite realized that the links were your reviews. I wasn’t sure if her science fiction was any good–sometimes an author jumps genres and it’s fine, while other times it’s dreadful. But I will keep that in mine. I’m really enjoying her books a lot–great historical fiction authors are such a rare and wonderful thing.

I’m glad you did this! I’ve been curious about her books ever since Rachel mentioned them. I really need to read The Beacon at Alexandria soon. And then maybe I can try some of her novels that are available as Kindle editions.

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