Black Ships by

4 April 2009


Image of Black Ships
ISBN: 9781841496993
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You must know that, despite all else I am, I am of the People.

This is one of those books that I’ve spotted several times in book shops and thought about picking up. But every time that little voice said to me “No more books! You’re moving soon, do you really want more stuff to carry around” and so I’d resist. But yesterday I had to take a train journey. With no mp3 player and no reading material. So I popped into Easons first. And there I picked up this book. To be totally honest, its the cover that always attracts me. There is just something about it that makes me pick this book up and flicking through it. I never even read the back of the book. I read the opening few pages and figured, what the hell, its can’t hurt, and added yet another book to my shelves. And so I have my first book of this year’s Once Upon a Time[1] challenge.

Because I hadn’t read the back I didn’t realise that this is a retelling of The Aeneid, not that it really matters, I’ve never read Virgil. I was vaguely familiar with some aspects of the story line, but other I knew nothing about. Okay, most of it I knew nothing about. Maybe that helped me enjoy the book more because I wasn’t thinking “that’s not in Virgil”? Or maybe if I had read it I would be all “ooohh, I like how that was changed”? Either way I did like the book. A lot.

Our first person narrator is Gull, a girl born into slavery, but, because of a crippling accident her mother gifts her to an oracle in the hope that she might live. Gull becomes Pythia, the oracle of the Lady of the Dead, and it is she who helps guide Aeneas and the people of Troy to the founding of Rome.

Gull is a good solid narrator, as sybil she sees a lot and part of her training was to observe and take everything in. Which is a handy skill for a narrator, you’ll have to agree. There are plenty of likeable characters too; although none that I loved and adored. Then again I can be quite picky with my fictional friends. The book itself is well written, not omg wonderful, but very very readable. I finished it in 2 sittings, so I never grew bored of the story line. And while there is a lot to the story it is never overly difficult, but it still gets its point across.

A few other reviews I’ve read have mentioned that it reminds them of The Mists of Avalon and I’d have to agree. It takes a well known myth with a male hero and rewrites it from the point of view of a woman. And so it has a different emphasis; instead of the glory of battle and the descriptions of war we have the women waiting at home to hear word back, with the knowledge that if their men have lost then they will, most likely, be raped and enslaved, their children either killed as too young to be of value, or likewise treated.

Once review said it was more of a romance than an historical novel. I’d disagree. Yes there is a certain amount of “who ends up with who” but that is because that is what happens in life. And so deserves attention.

I think I’ll be on the look out for Graham’s second novel too, and maybe even The Aeneid at some point.


  1. this is slightly a cheat, Im still not sure what else Im reading for the challenge but Im sure I will find something

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4 Responses

  1. jean pierre says:

    being picky with fictional friends…! haha! i like that. and its so true. they do become friends of a sort. i'm certainly picky about them too!

    and i most definitely also a cover buyer.

    this looks quite nice. i don't think i'd necessarily buy it just like that – but when i eventually get around to reading some more mythology again then i think i'd enjoy dipping into this.

  2. me says:

    This sounds like a perfect fit. If Graham's 2nd book is a retelling of the Inferno. I am leaving my husband to be a graham groupie.

    I am so excited to see that I am not the only cover buyer. I just picked something up yesterday because of the cover. It too fits in with the challenge.

  3. Carl V. says:

    It sounds very good. And I do not fault you at all for being attracted to this cover, it is beautiful! I would have to think the author was thrilled when she saw the final design.

  4. Fence says:

    I'm picky with a lot of things JP :) Fictional friends is just one of them.

    Hi me (that sounds weird) I guess a lot of us do judge by the cover then :)

    I think so too Carl. And the design for the <a href="; rel="nofollow">second book is in a similar style but not *quite* as nice.