Black Ships by Jo Graham

25 July 2008 — fuzzyhistory

Born of The Aeneid, Black Ships retells the story of Aeneas, the last prince of Troy, from the point of view of a female oracle. Known variously as Gull, Linnea, Pythia and Sybil, she walks with Persephone, the Lady of the Dead, serving as her voice when she communicates with the people.

Troy has fallen when the story opens. Gull is the child of a slave woman. Because of an accident that cripples her, she becomes Pythia’s acolyte. In a few years, at the tender age of 12 or 13, Gull becomes Pythia through the death of her mentor.

Aeneas arrives in Pylos seeking a place for his people to live. Pythia joins Aeneas at this point and travels with his people.

Centered around the trials and tribulations of their travels from Pylos to their final destination, Latium, near the future Rome, Black Ships describes the economic crisis of the times (approximately 1200 BCE) and how people coped with it.

While I very much enjoyed the story, I wonder if this modern retelling loses something of the reality of the times of Virgil’s Aeneid. The men seem too kind-hearted (e.g., Aeneas’ treatment of Basetamon), too deferential to Gull – though at times they believe her to be more a god than a woman. There are sword fights and skirmishes, but the battle scenes aren’t related in the same graphic detail as the travels or the relationships amongst the people.

At the end of the day, Black Ships is as much a love story as it is a historical novel. It’s in no way, shape or form the kind of trashy bodice-ripper often associated with the genre, historical romance. But neither is the novel what I would call historical fantasy. There is legend, but no dragons. There is mystique, but no magic.

While the categorization is unlikely the author’s fault, potential readers should be prepared for an emotional journey rather than a fast-paced romp through imagined lands. Rating: Very good. (Click the image above to purchase the novel from Amazon. Fuzzy History receives a small commission for the referral.