Sunday, October 5, 2008

BLACK SHIPS by Jo Graham

BLACK SHIPS is one for the keeper shelf. Which means I have to go get a copy, because I read a library copy.

BLACK SHIPS follows the life of the Sybil of Aeneas, a prince of fallen Troy, or Wilusa. A sybil is what the Romans called an oracle. An alternate spelling is sibyl, and a Wikipedia entry on sibyls can be found here. Sybils were always female, and they always serve for life. This sybil--whose given name is Gull--is the daugher of a slave, born of rape after the first fall of Wilusa. Her mother gave birth to her in the town of Pylos, in the Greek pennunsula, but always reminded her that she was of "the People".  Her mother also gave birth to a son by an Achaian (Greek) father, and his name was Aren.

When Gull is still a young girl, an accident leaves her crippled. Since her mother cannot take care of a crippled daughter, she takes her as an offering to the shrine of the Lady of the Dead. The oracle there--called by the Achaians as Pythia--is reluctant to take her, but when Gull has a vision of black ships, Pythia knows she has found her replacement.

So Gull grows up and eventually takes over as Pythia. Shortly afterward, the she is driven by her goddess to a hilltop early one morning. There, she sees the black ships of her vision. She hurries to the town of Pylos just as the invaders begin to put the city to the sword.

And what happens next is not anything you would expect.

The rest of the story is based on the story in the Aeneid, the epic poem by Virgil, based which tells how Aeneas founds the city of Rome. Gull travels with Aeneas's fleet, in a ship captained by Xandros. Xandros is in love with Aeneas, but he also grows to love Gull. Gull is in love with Aeneas, but she also loves Xandros. As for Aeneas's feelings? He clearly loved his dead wife and displays no particular passion for Xandros beyond trust and friendship. And he has a very dangerous romance midway through the story. And his feelings for Gull? Time will tell.

Don't expect modern homosexual attitudes. This is the way it was in ancient times. Just read about Julius Caesar's life.

My critiques are few. A sex scene, when it finally happened, was surprisingly awkward. So was a subsequent birth scene. And during one squabble scene, a character drops the F-bomb, which I felt was totally out of place in this novel, since this was the only place where it appeared. My only major critique concerned a long-anticipated battle. Since Gull is a woman and didn't participate, she only learns about the battle after-the-fact. I felt the author missed a chance to use Gull's powers as an oracle to put the reader in the midst of the battle.

Otherwise, this was a marvellous novel. A while back, I wrote a post on how much I love character development novels. BLACK SHIPS is such a novel. If you enjoy ancient history and getting lost in the life of an extraordinary character, I think you'll enjoy BLACK SHIPS.

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BLACK SHIPS Amazon links: USA, UK, Canada
Jo Graham's website and blog


Kristen said...

Thanks for the review! This one sounds very good, especially since I love character driven stories. It's been added to the wish list.

SciFiGuy said...

Strong character-driven stories are my favourites so another title gets added to the wishlist.

BTW I have nominated you for an 'I Love Your Blog' award.

Tia Nevitt said...

Thanks, SciFiGuy!

I hope you both enjoy it. I always get kind of nervous when someone buys a book on my recommendation. I hope to see reviews at your blog, soon!

Kristen said...

I always get nervous when people say they're buying a book based on my recommendation too. It sounds exactly like the type of book I'd like, though - I'm pretty confident I'll enjoy it. :)