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Kudos for Black Ships

Posted on 2008.05.25 at 17:47
Current Mood: impressedimpressed
I just finished reading Black Ships by Jo Graham  and enjoyed it very much.   The story is set in the time just after the fall of Troy (Wilusa). The main character Gull is born to a Trojan woman who was raped and enslaved by the Greeks.  At the age of seven, Gull is lamed by a chariot, and her desperate mother takes her to be an acolyte of the priestess of the Lady of the Dead who soon discovers that Gull has the gift of a true seer.  She foretells the coming of a fleet of Trojan men led by Prince Aeneus  to claim their women and when the time comes, she goes with them.  Because she is the priestess, she is held in esteem and when her visions prove true over time, she becomes the expedition's counselor.  Through many adventures, she discovers her love for one of the ship's captains, Xandros who is also Prince Aeneus' closest friend.  Pursued by the vengeful Greeks, they end up in many-splendored Egypt, only to discover the taint of madness there in the character of the Pharoah's sister Basetamon who conceives a dangerous passion for the Prince.  Gull must help him escape to fulfill his destiny as a king and founder of cities and through doing so, find her own destiny as well.

The story is based on Virgil's Aeneid, the last prince of Troy, which I have not read and must. Jo Graham successfully brought the world of the ancient Mediterranean to life through Gull's eyes.  I felt I was there on the ships amongst the rowers, splashed by salty spray, or in the broad white avenues of ancient Memphis, or in the hills of Italy.  It was a wonderful trip.  I am in awe of the amount of research that she must have done.

The story is laced with the sadness of watching a world fall into decay, and witnessing the deaths of too many young men.  It shows too clearly the effect of war on women and children.  But it is also full of hope that something better can arise from the ashes through the efforts of valiant men and women.

I admired Jo Graham's clean, elegant prose reminiscent of Mary Renault, that at times soared to a kind of poetry.  Here is the scene when Gull realizes she is in love with Xandros. "I knew then.  I had a word for the thing that leaped inside me, pure and sweet.  I thought my heart would break at the grace of him, black hair shining like a raven's wing, bending with a gentle smile over this little girl who lived while his own daughters were offal for the kites.  I knew.  And I knew what was not mine." 

I must admit I cried at the end, and the tears were well earned. All in all a very engaging read. I look forward to Jo's next books.  Jo is btw, one of my LJ friends and I'm so pleased that her debut novel has done so well.  I certainly recommend it.


heartofoshun at 2008-05-26 02:20 (UTC) (Link)
That sounds really interesting. I'd like to read it. It reminds me of Christa Wolf's Cassandra, which is a wonderful book and covers similar themes. Cassandra is the daughter of Priam King of Troy. It tells her whole history and the story of Troy, is also an allegory about women's voices being unheard. Has a lovely tragic love story also.
elfscribe5 at 2008-05-26 05:07 (UTC) (Link)
Haven't read Cassandra. What a wonderful world of books to keep one busy until infirmity. I think you'd like Black Ships.
aoi_shu at 2008-05-26 05:55 (UTC) (Link)
sounds really twisted ^-^
Black ships was how Japanese called western army ships.

Is it a serious read, or just a one night stand? Somehow made me think of "Tais of Athens" by Ivan Efremov or this "Pharaoh" forgot the name of the author.
elfscribe5 at 2008-05-26 06:32 (UTC) (Link)
Hi Shu,
I guess it depends on how fast you read. It's little over 400 pages. Worth it.
aoi_shu at 2008-05-26 06:52 (UTC) (Link)
lol.. I have a little over million pages for my Master's thesis now.. >.<
I can share the knowledge about pretty Japanese boys afterwards.

Just this book sounded like these old adventure/history novels kids grow up with here... ^^ Nostalgic....
talullahred at 2008-05-26 07:59 (UTC) (Link)
You read that book (Thais)? I loved it but it's so rare to find another person who's even heard of it.
aoi_shu at 2008-05-26 08:13 (UTC) (Link)
well, you just need to find a Russian person, is all^^;
I actually didn't finish it, I been really small kiddie then and I enjoyed his other work "Razor Blade" much more. Efremov is a very peculiar author. I'd highly recommend that book, even though his idealistic view of communist victory over capitalism might seem odd to a US reader, i suppose, but it is still a great story.
talullahred at 2008-05-30 23:46 (UTC) (Link)
I don't know 'Razor Blade' but I'll look for it - as I'm not an American I doubt it will make large crinkles in my forehead from excessive highbrow raising. ;)

Thanks for the rec
aoi_shu at 2008-05-31 05:36 (UTC) (Link)
hahahah, yeah.
He had been idealist - and if you think about it Communist is a great idea, but too much of a utopia not to let people spoil it. So his book is in a way naive in this respect - but it is a great adventure story. and it has lovely characters and ..well you read his stuff you'll know ^-^ <3
talullahred at 2008-05-26 08:00 (UTC) (Link)
Sounds interesting... My first thought went out to MZBs Firebrand which is told from Cassandra's POV. I'll add it to my incredibly long to buy&read list.
elfscribe5 at 2008-05-27 14:18 (UTC) (Link)
I have a long list too - including a pile that I already own. I'm a great buyer of books and then because I have them, not getting around to reading.
talullahred at 2008-05-30 23:49 (UTC) (Link)
WORD! I swore off buying more books until I read all the ones I have at home unread... and between loans and gifts the pile is still growing!! Actually, the pile is nothing comparing to the full shelves... It's a depressing thought, not to say scary. ;)
artaxastra at 2008-05-26 13:17 (UTC) (Link)
You are awesome and wonderful! *hugs*
elfscribe5 at 2008-05-27 14:29 (UTC) (Link)
You are the awesome one, my dear. I'd truly like to know how you knew so much about the boats, and rowers and such. It felt very authentic. I quite fell in love with both your Xandros and Aeneus and being a slashy type wished we could see more of a relationship between them, but of course it wasn't meant to be. And I must say a part that I found most tantalizing was the, off-camera, relationship of Basetamon and Aeneus - very frightening. Since I've not read the Aeneid, I didn't know about Dido, but seems I should check into it. I also liked the introduction of the new technology and close order fighting. Your description of Egypt was stunning.
artaxastra at 2008-06-03 21:10 (UTC) (Link)
I'm so glad you loved Neas and Xandros! There was more slash originally in it, and anyone who can't write slashy fanfic for this can't shoot fish in a barrel! *g* (BTW, I am all for fanfic of Black Ships!) Personally, I wish I could have used the threesome scene....

But there's a canon threesome in the new book....
elfscribe5 at 2008-06-04 04:50 (UTC) (Link)
Cool! Canon threesome. You said there was more slash in it originally? Why did you take it out? Just curious. I'm not sure I could slash Neas. He seemed so unrepentantly het, (and just lovely that way) even though I think Xandros wouldn't have minded. I actually would have liked to see a little more of Xandros and Ashterah. He/she disappeared too soon, I'm thinking. The scene with Mik-el was just magical. Again, I'd have liked more with him. But one can't have everything. I'll tell you though the scene I found most horrifying and fascinating was Neas' story about his relationship with Basetamon. Madness always freaks me. *shivers* That actually is somewhat reminiscent of that scene in The King Must Die when Theseus comes upon Ariadne after the night of Dionysian revels clutching *something* in her hand. An image that has stayed with me all these years later even though MR never reveals exactly what that something was. *more shivers*

Edited at 2008-06-04 04:57 am (UTC)
keiliss at 2008-05-26 18:36 (UTC) (Link)
Like MZB's Firebrand, yes, or - there's a wonderful book by Richard Powell called Whom the Gods Would Destroy - Torjan war, both sides, marvellous characters. Or there's... I could make a list, lol. This sounds utterly wonderful, I'd love to read it. I definitely plan to look out for it.

Edited at 2008-05-26 06:40 pm (UTC)
elfscribe5 at 2008-05-27 14:57 (UTC) (Link)
So many wonderful books out there. I think you'd like this one and it's been nice to visit artaxastra's LJ and see a little behind the scenes so to speak. She wrote that wonderful Bagoas story,Stealing Fire, where he meets with her fictional character Lydias while accompanying Alexander's coffin, knowing Ptolemy's plans to waylay it and take it to Alexandria. It's a lovely moment. Here:http://community.livejournal.com/maryrenaultfics/117335.html
(Would love to hear from you when you get a chance.)
erfan_starled at 2008-05-27 13:37 (UTC) (Link)
Your review in Goodreads left me wanting to read this book and other classics too. I enjoyed the review.
elfscribe5 at 2008-05-27 14:58 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks Erfan. Lots of good stuff to read. I just started the Riddlemaster book you recced.
Ishtar L-Amarain
sharz at 2008-05-27 14:56 (UTC) (Link)
I just ordered that :D
elfscribe5 at 2008-05-27 14:59 (UTC) (Link)
Cool. Hope you like it. Btw, I've got some time to work on more of the Wraeththu fic. Hope to get another chapter out soon. *g*
Ishtar L-Amarain
sharz at 2008-05-27 15:05 (UTC) (Link)
Oh good to hear :D
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