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Black Ships: A Novel Hardcover – 22 May 2008

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 431 pages
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1435282280
  • ISBN-13: 978-1435282285
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 14.6 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Review

Haunting and bittersweet, lush and vivid, this extraordinary story has lived with me since I first read it (Naomi Novik) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

Lyrical historical fantasy, set in the aftermath of the Trojan Wars. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Rachael Baylis on 1 July 2008
Format: Paperback
This is Jo Graham's first published novel, and the start of a projected series to be known (I believe) as the Numinous World. Black Ships begins in King Nestor's city of Pylos, after the fall of Troy (or Wilusa, as the refugees call it), and follows the protagonist, a Trojan-descended priestess named Gull, from there to the founding of the new city of Rome by Prince Aeneas and his band of followers. As this suggests, it's heavily based on the Iliad and the Aeneid, but the story becomes far more than a simple retelling. Graham produces a narrative that combines the traditional epics with the known archaeology and history of the Bronze-Age Mediterranean, evoking time and place with a sure hand.

I love all the settings in this; it's a world in flux, changing around the characters. They start from Troy and Pylos, travel to Miletus and Byblos, and to Egypt (in the biggest change from the original sources; Graham points out that Carthage wasn't founded until around four hundred years after the fall of Aeneas' Troy) before finally establishing a new home in Italy. Graham shows the reader all the diverse societies, especially that of Egypt, where the Wilusans spend some time; each society is different, but we also see how they interact in the Mediterranean world. Graham uses the complex history excavated at Hisarlik to expand the story; Gull's mother and the other slaves from Pylos are taken at the fall of the city, but the main plot of the book comes nearly a generation later, as Neas and his comrades escape the destruction of the remnants of Wilusa-that-was by an expedition led by Achilles' son Neoptolemus. Pursued by Neoptolemus and his allies, Neas leads the black ships to Egypt, where Neoptolemus is finally defeated, eventually finding a place to settle in Latium.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 25 July 2008
Format: Paperback
Gull, the central character of Black Ships is something special. She's firmly of her time and conveys a vivid sense of what it might have been like to live in an age when gods spoke, cities rose and fell, freedom was a fragile privilege, and the cutting edge of technology was a new type of sword. But she's also an outsider in her own time, able to step back and view a bigger picture; to ask the questions about history, values, and decisions that I'd want to ask ancient people if I could meet them. For all her perceptiveness, she never comes across as one of those anachronistic point-of-view characters, but as a living individual.

Her role of sibyl allows her to have one foot in the world of men with its power struggles, politics, and action. The other foot stays firmly in the world of women, where she deals matter-of-factly with rape, childbirth, slavery, bereavement, and the practicalities of day-to-day survival. Then there's the world of the gods, specifically Death, whom Gull serves with awe, and an oddly life-affirming devotion. Gull herself never doubts that supernatural forces intervene in her life, but Jo Graham's sensitive portrayal leaves space for both Gull's faith and modern readers' doubts to fit comfortably inside her story.

This is an author who knows the ancient world, from the details of everyday life to the shifting fortunes empires, and she's secure enough in her knowledge that she's not afraid to interpret and invent within the framework it offers.

Gull and the others, especially Aeneas and Xandros, thread their way from Troy and Greece to the founding of Rome via the destruction of Thera, the piracy of Miletus, the politics of Lebannon, and the magnificence of Egypt.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By I. M. Hardy on 17 July 2008
Format: Paperback
'Black Ships' is Jo Graham's debut, a sparse and haunting retelling of Virgil's Aeneid, following the journey of the remnants of Troy around the Mediterranean in search of somewhere to build a new life, as the great Bronze Age civilisations begin to crumble.

But this is not simply an outing for fans of Virgil or those steeped in ancient history; Graham's graceful touch and beautiful characterisations breath life into a world known only through ruins and artefacts. Her characters struggle with politics, love, religion and conflict just as much as any today, and the reader is made inextricably a part of this world that seems so distant.

I had not read two chapters of 'Black Ships' before I was utterly hooked, and kept reading for hours just to see this incredible story through to its end. I will be eagerly awaiting Graham's next book!
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