Review | Selene of Alexandria


Oh my goodness. My first review. And my second post within the same day. Unbelievable. xD Happy Review it on Wednesday!

Title: Selene of Alexandria
Author: Faith L. Justice
Publishing:, Nov. 2009
Page Count: 350 pgs.
Format: Kindle Edition
Why I Read It: The group Historical Fictionistas on GoodReads featured it as the group read of the month.
Rating:  2.85 stars

My favorite genre. My favorite time period. Even a feminine heroine and a certain level on unpredictability. It’s a match made in heaven as far as I’m concerned. Yet I couldn’t even get it up to 3 stars. I’ve always been a “rate at an integer” kinda girl. But this book deserved a category on it’s own. I have inherited a rating scale that says a 2 star rating is one that needed more. I started this off by mentioning everything it gave me. I can’t imagine what more I needed. The scale says that a 3 star rating is that it was a so-so read. I think it was less than so-so, perhaps even mediocre. Somewhere in between, I think so. Here’s the synopsis, provided on Amazon:

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?

Sounds interesting right? 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 historical fiction. 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. My word is that of a 23-year-old non-writer, first-time reviewer.

Feel free to leave your thoughts and comments. Change my mind, I’d love to hear it. Happy Reading!

By jboehret Posted in Review