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BLACK SHIPS by Jo Graham


by Jo Graham

Pub Date: March 10th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-316-06800-0
Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

This debut fantasy enters Marion Zimmer Bradley and Diana Paxson territory with a retelling of The Aeneid from the perspective of Prince Aeneas’s personal oracle.

Daughter of a slave taken as spoils after the sacking of Troy (called Wilusa here), Gull grows up in the Achaian (aka Greek) kingdom of Pylos. A crippling leg injury and visions of the future mark the six-year-old girl for service at the Shrine of the Lady of the Dead. At 17, her destiny is sealed when the remaining free people of Wilusa sail into port, led by the last of the royal line, Prince Aeneas. Prompted by her goddess, Gull, now known as Pythia, accepts a position as Sybil, priestess and seeress to the prince. As the Wilusans move across the seas in search of a new land to call their own, they face many hazards, including pursuit by Achilles’ son Neoptolemos and the more subtle blandishments of the Egyptian Princess Basetamon, who plays the tragic role traditionally attributed to Carthage’s Queen Dido, before reaching their goal and founding the city that will one day be known as Rome. The structure of this story isn’t anything readers of feminist historical fantasy haven’t seen before; in fact, it’s so familiar that despite the perils studding the plotline, there’s never any genuine dramatic tension. But although the novel lacks surprises, it compensates with sympathetic characters and emotional truth.

A lyrically written, if pedestrian-plotted, addition to the canon.