Gillian Bradshaw is one of my favorite historical authors, and this one does not disappoint. She admits up front to distorting the timeline slightly in the interests of the plot, which spans about seven critical years in the Fourth Century.

At this point the Roman Empire is Christian, but not necessarily deeply so, with plenty of pagan traditions surviving, and of course deep factionalism over the proper form of belief. All of this is far from the life of a sixteen-year-old upper-class girl in Ephesus, but the plot takes us into that world. Athanasius is one of the most prominent figures of this time, and from what very little I know of him, I think Bradshaw did a great job depicting him.

But back to the center of the story. Charis is in love with medicine in a society that doesn’t allow women to practice it. So she largely hides her interest, and then for much of the book hides who she is instead, and much of the novel is an outpouring of love for medical learning, and the practicalities of its practice in this age as well as a glimpse into the scholastic side of Alexandria.

This is an intensely character-driven novel, with Charis’ first-person descriptions and relationships driving everything. With a couple exceptions for when larger events intrude on her life, and suddenly plot drives everything to lever it into the next major section. Some of that feels abrupt, because of the change in pacing, but overall, it’s a wonderfully-written, very personal feeling novel, and another winner from Bradshaw.