Just Finished Reading: Black Ships by Jo Graham
Decades after the destruction of Troy the survivors have started to rebuild as best they can. When raiders arrive from the West the defences are overwhelmed and many are taken as slaves. Within a year one of the slave girls gives birth to a daughter who she calls Gull to remind her of home. Crippled in an accident which results in a permanent limp, Gull is given to the local oracle and soon shows her talent for seeing the future. Years later – as she saw as a child – five black ships appear off the coast and begin to burn the town. Rushing to the centre she confronts the raiders who speak her own language. Now a servant of the Lady of the Dead, Gull takes control of the situation freeing the slaves and joining the raiding party as they escape to the open sea. Guiding them across the Sea using her visionary powers the band of warrior refugees eventually hire themselves out to the super-power in the region – Egypt. After they win a series of successful battles for their new masters a decision must be made – to stay and fade into history or strike out on their own. The outcome is a split judgment with less than half of the ships sailing even further West to the edge of the known world. There they intend to found a new city - one that will be known to all of history as Rome.
This book was a great read. It was all the more surprising as this was the author’s debut novel. As such it was simply outstanding. Told with real passion for the period – part myth and part ancient history – Jo Graham put the reader at the centre of things seen mostly through her delightful main character the seer Gull. At other times and in other places – be it the sumptuous palaces of Ramses II or the fighting decks of ancient warships - it felt as if you were placed just over the shoulder of the character in the spotlight. Gull was in fact far from the only character of note. The rest of the rag-tag band were almost equally fleshed out and fully three dimensional. Unless your heart is made of stone you cannot help to be moved by the plight of a people without home or possession except for their own determination to survive and prosper in a very hostile world. I found myself virtually cheering them on as the defeated their enemies and made new fast friends to help them in their quest for a home city. This book was actually frighteningly good and a cracking page turner. Based on several myths of the era this novel managed to flesh out the legends and make the heroes real. If you want a wonderful and honestly haunting read that will stay with you for weeks after you turn the final page then this is the book for you. Highly recommended.