From Sten (Mine, 2010) comes a historical novel concerning a boy named Arion and his adventures in the ancient world.
It is 439 B.C.E. when Arion, a Greek boy of 12, sets sail from Mytilene with his merchant father, Periandros. Heading south across the Aegean Sea, their vessel passes islands such as Chios and Samos, allowing father and son the opportunity to reflect on The Odyssey. Such is the case when the two pass ships off of Samos (“Arion remembers that Homer compares to a quadriga the fifty-two-oared Phaiakian galley that carried Odysseus homeward from Scheria Island”). Nothing, however, can compare to the excitement of Egypt (“Unlike any other land on earth, Egypt is a surprise, an intoxicating dichotomy, a verdant plain eight to sixteen kilometers wide and nine hundred seventy kilometers long, watered and nurtured by a river that is usually more than a kilometer wide, in the midst of one of earth’s most inhospitable regions—the driest, nearly hottest, desert”). After taking in many of the sites of this alluring land, the eager travelers find that fate becomes grossly less kind. During celebrations for Arion’s 13th birthday, a group of marauders attacks with deadly consequences. What will it mean for Arion’s future when his world is so suddenly, and brutally, shattered? Taking quite a few pages to get to that event, the book does not always deliver the most gripping prose. One example arrives in a description of how Arion and his father become tired when finishing their evening meal: “After an empty stomach is satisfied, and night falls, though sleep is resisted by an active mind and imagination, the body demands it, and the two deck lamps are too dim to resist the darkness.” Items of the ancient world are, however, explained in efficient fashion, including the symbolic importance of scarabs to the Egyptians: “So often in Egypt one can see myriad baby beetles emerge like magic from a ball of dung….It is life from nothing, life from muck!” These sentiments, combined with the violent second half of the story, create a complex image of the period that is vibrant with mythmaking but also seared by the constant possibility of terror.
Slow-paced in the first part, the novel nevertheless provides plenty of action scenes and enticing details.