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Selene of Alexandria by Faith L. Justice
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Selene of Alexandria

by Faith L. Justice

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4416407,362 (4.06)33
Set in AD 412 Alexandria, Egypt and based on historical events, this story of ambition, love and murder brings to life colorful characters and an exotic time and place. Selene is bright, impulsive, stubborn, and a little spoiled by her father, a city councilor. Since her mother's death, she longs to forgo the privileges of her class to become a physician--an impossible dream for upper class girls who never engage in a profession. But Selene perseveres and gains a powerful champion--Hypatia, the renowned mathematician and Lady Philosopher of Alexandria. The old Christian Patriarch dies and the city splits in support of two candidates. After days of rioting, the Patriarch's nephew Cyril is proclaimed Patriarch and sets about consolidating the Christian sects and purging Alexandria of pagans and Jews. Orestes, the new Augustal Prefect, struggles to keep the peace and also seeks the advice of Hypatia. He finds her a woman of enormous personal charm and astute political insight and places her first among his advisors, to the humiliation of the new Patriarch. These events set the stage for a contest of wills between Church and Empire. Selene struggles in her new life. Under Hypatia's guidance, she takes classes and apprentices in medicine. She gives up security and the love of a young man for the danger of poor neighborhoods and the hostility of her classmates. It's not long before Selene is unwittingly drawn into the deadly rivalry between Cyril and Orestes. She comes of age amidst riot, plague and political intrigue . But will Selene survive the consequences of her own ambitions and impulsive actions?… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
Fascinating, well-written account of 5th century Alexandria, through the story of Selene, an upper-class girl, who cherishes and fulfills her ambitions of becoming a doctor and escapes the circumscribed life of marriage, running a home, and children under the thumb of an all-powerful husband. We are also thrust into the tumultuous years of that time, with religious dissention and riots between pagans, Jews and various Christian sects, the Machiavellian Patriarch Cyril, the famous woman philosopher, the pagan Hypatia, and the well-meaning, stalwart Augustal Prefect, Orestes, who tries to maintain peace among all Alexandrines. The ending was sad but no doubt inevitable.

The author's historical research was impeccable. I thought her portrayal of Hypatia, one of the most accurate I've read: that of an older woman, filled with the wisdom of years. Characters were believable and most aroused my sympathy and admiration. Though physical descriptions and backgrounds of the historical figures were from the author's imagination as she herself admits in her Notes, they rang true. I guess when Cyril was made a saint, his hand in any horrific events was overlooked and emphasis placed on the importance of his writings on church doctrine.

Highly recommended. ( )
  janerawoof | Apr 13, 2018 |
Selene is a rich man's daughter living in Alexandria in 412 AD. Not content with the life of a noble Christian woman, she seeks knowledge and freedom. After meeting Lady Philosopher Hypatia and convincing her father to allow her to continue her studies, Selene enters the Museum as a student. She excels at her classes, much to the delight of her father and chagrin of the other elite living in Alexandria. Cyril, the new patriarch of the Alexandrian Church wants to convert Alexandria to complete Christianity. Standing in his way to domination is Prefect Orestes and the Lady Philosopher Hypatia. Also in the Patriarch's way, those who stand for reason. Selene must learn how to navigate this treacherous road.
When readers meet Selene, she is a gangly girl of fourteen. Her desire for knowledge distinguishes her from her peers, both male and female. Her journey to awareness can be heartbreaking, but with each misstep, Selene learns a new lesson. And her sincerity and good nature earn her the reader's love. I expected to see more of Hypatia, but her absence leaves the focus on Selene. The other secondary characters, such as Rebecca, Orstes and Antonius were wonderful.
The action is never ending, and the plot is full of SUPER twists and turns. Also included in this book are undercurrents of class relations, as well as a battle of Church versus State. These only increase the book's readability.
This book had me tearing up a lot. Here are some of my favorite parts.
"Philosophy is a rigorous study and a way of life which only a few are able to master."
"Stripped of my past, I have the opportunity to make my own future."
Needless to say, I loved this book and would wholeheartedly recommend this book to any ancient book lover or anyone wanting to learn about Hypatia. ( )
  allisonmacias | Feb 10, 2012 |
Even people who don’t read historical fiction as obsessively as I do would like this, I should think. And they do! Reviewers on Amazon and GoodReads raved about this one. I believe I’m the first to not like it all that much… So here’s what happened for me.
I knew nothing about this time period for Alexandria, Egypt. I typically read about Greece and Rome in this era. Before this, I’d heard no more than a whisper of Hypatia. Orestes and “Saint” Cyril were completely unbeknownst to me. So, what I can take away from this is that I learned loads. I met some characters that actually existed 1600 years ago and that always pleases me when reading historical fiction. It’s really the only place that can happen. But I digress…
Because I like to end on a good note…
The Bad
The author mentioned somewhere that she wanted to get a viewpoint on the political and religious turmoil in this state from the eyes of a common person exposed to it. Hence the entrance of Selene, Philip, Rebecca, etc., all of the author’s imagination. Great. I love when authors do that. They mix enough of the actual history with fiction that it makes sense. But the issue I have here is how predictable these characters were. It seemed that they could do nothing surprising. No cliffhangers. Call me a sucker for cliffhangers but I was bored with them. I knew what they would do/say/think/react to next. Not ver batim but I fancy myself experienced enough to have a good clue. I realize that there is a certain level of predictability that comes with the creation of a character for a novel. There’s only so much one can think up without sounding like a mad person who is intentionally trying to make the wackiest character out there. But when it’s blatantly obvious to a non-writer who the fictional characters are and who are based off real people, one has to wonder.
A piece of me wants to mention the preachy nature of this book. But I realize that that was really the point. Religion was meant to be a main focal point. I just sorta felt like it was being forced down my throat on several occasions – evidence suggesting atheism, I might add.
The Good
The author did an amazing job with the characters Cyril, Orestes, Hypatia, etc. I love them. I remember them. I feel like I knew them and I want to read more about them. They were engaging, dynamic, exciting and unpredictable. They felt like real people. Everytime Hypatia and Orestes had conversation, I was enraptured. To me, they shined enough that the other characters disappeared into the shadows. Was that the point? I doubt it seriously.
I also think the author showcased the major events well. The purge of the Jews and ensuing Plague, the various riots, even women in professions in this era were all well described and invigorating. There’s no doubt, it kept me clicking the page forward on my Kindle. I just wasn’t thrilled silly.
Sometimes I think I’m too harsh, too critical of these writers when I’m not a writer myself. Who am I to judge this person’s work? But I can’t help it. Am I too hung up on the fictional characters bit? I’d like to go back and say “yeah, I should let that go”. But this is historicalfiction. She’s supposed to do well on the research and the made-up parts. And if there are so many writers out there who do this so well (Diana Gabaldon, Paullina Simons, Arthur Golden, etc.), why can’t she? She’s got to be held to a higher standard because she writes for a genre that’s composed of two equally important parts. We’re meant to believe this and I wasn’t sold.
I don’t particularly recommend this. My best suggestion when I review something as not great or worse, is to go out and read it yourself to form your own opinions if you so choose. ( )
1 vote jboehret | Jan 6, 2012 |
Teen-aged Selene lives in the Christian city of Alexandria. In A.D. 412, it is unusual for upper-class girls to enter professions, but Selene wishes to become a physician rather than marry a man of her father's choice. She succeeds in gaining the tutelage of Lady Philosopher Hypatia and other Alexandrian scholars, but the city is descending into a struggle between the Christians under the new, young bishop and all other religious sects, pagan and Jewish. In a city separating into sides in the midst of political intrigue, religious fanaticism, and personal ambitions, can Selene manage to make her dream come true?

Setting and characters: The setting and characters themselves are some of the most interesting aspects to this novel. It's set in the Roman Empire, but the Empire is the Christian one of several centuries after the gladiatorial, Caesar-run, pantheon-worshiping one of most other ancient Roman historical novels. It's a time period that I've never run into before in historical fiction, the one when classical civilization was fading into the "Dark Ages." Selene is a fascinating character, being a female physician-in-training (unusual but not unheard of), and the story of Orestes, Prefect of Alexandria, is told as well.

Writing: Selene of Alexandria is both well-researched and well-written. Faith Justice makes clear which characters are fictional and which were actual people, and she also includes a historical note at the end to further explain what is factual and what is creative license. She incorporates a wealth of historical details into the story, and these are worked in well enough that they seem natural, not just random research forced into the storyline. My biggest plaudit for this novel is that its story is completely believable. Selene, though an unusual character, is not so modernized in her opinions and actions as to be implausible. Her role in the larger story of Alexandria is not some fantastical place reached by an entirely improbable series of events, instead coming across as small yet still important, organized by chance in the manipulations of the city's leaders. Another situation and person could have been substituted in her spot; it just happened to be Selene.

Everything else: For some reason, it took me a surprisingly long time to get into the story. The author takes a while to set up the characters and story, but then there's several central characters and a complex plot. The novel got better after this, though. And better and better and better. By the end, I couldn't put it down. What started off as a slow plot kept getting faster and faster as tensions in Alexandria wound tighter and Selene and her family, along with everyone else, became more entangled in them. I'm hoping that Faith Justice will write another book about the characters of Selene of Alexandria, because even though the novel may have been written as a stand-alone, I want to see what happens to Selene, her family, and her friends as they move on after the conclusion.

One final praise: Selene of Alexandria is historical fiction written for historical instruction, not for romance, Christian inspiration, or any other reason. I really hate it when authors take wonderful-sounding historical settings and characters and don't use them to teach history. Really, that's the purpose of historical fiction, to spread historical knowledge in a fun, accessible way. This novel does an excellent job with that, as I learned a lot about this part of history. ( )
1 vote SusieBookworm | Jul 27, 2011 |
This book centers around Selene, daughter of a wealthy council member, living in Alexandria during a time of unrest. With a power-hungry bishop fighting against the fair-minded city prefect, the city has many political and religious riots and debates. Selene is breaking boundaries by persuing her dreams to become a physician and she gets caught up in all the turmoil and intrigue that goes on. I found the characters to be very believable, and of course Selene was my favorite. The pace was a bit choppy at times, skipping ahead a few months during times that seemed like they should be filled with action. I also wasn't expecting the few gory medical details, but they added to the reality of Selene's life. But I was definitely interested in all the events surrounding Selene, and found myself easily caught up in the drama. I enjoyed the realism of the situations, and the fact that though Selene was a tough, smart, and determined herione, not every detail in her life turned out perfect. ( )
  MillieHennessy | Jan 6, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
"Selene of Alexandria" is an entertaining and enlightening novel of the classical era, and a fine read through and through.
 
Selene of Alexandria is pure fiction magic...I couldn't put this book down. I love the way Justice mixed historic facts with her fictional character's lives, dreams, loves, and aspirations. I truly felt for Selene and rooted for her along the way...Selene of Alexandria made me laugh and cry, hope and despair. I can't wait to see what else Faith L. Justice has in store for us.
 
Selene’s world is so meticulously described, from the small, everyday details of her wardrobe and toilette to the authentic recreation of the city she inhabits, and rendered with such a “you-are-there” immediacy—whether it is a grand chariot procession through the bustling streets or a bird’s eye view from the top of the skyscraping Lighthouse—that readers will be captivated. Fans of Gillian Bradshaw’s classic The Beacon at Alexandria may especially enjoy Selene and find a promising new historical novelist who shares the same gift for wonderfully researched, vividly evoked, good old-fashioned storytelling.
 
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Blood pounded in Selene's ears, beating to the rhythm of her bare feet thudding on the hard beach scrabble.
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Young, gifted, and strong-willed, Selene longs to rebel against the restrictions of her class to become a physician, But in AD 412, the women of rich Christian families never lower themselves to work in a profession.

Selene perseveres and gains a powerful champion—Hypatia, the renowned mathematician and Lady Philosopher of Alexandria. But the next three years are perilous. Selene and Hypatia are drawn into the heart of a struggle between the ambitious bishop and the new governor for the soul of the city—a struggle that enmeshes Selene in accusations of witchcraft and spirals into a series of bloody confrontations between Christians, pagans, and Jews.

Selene comes of age amidst riot, plague, and political intrigue; but will she survive the consequences of her own ambitions and impulsive nature?
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