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.