Black Ships: Not oversold

Jo Graham Black Ships Hand of Isis book reviews historical fantasybook review Jo Graham Black ShipsBlack Ships by Jo Graham

After hearing so many of my fellow FanLit reviewers sing the praises of Jo Graham’s debut novel Black Ships, and getting similarly glowing reviews from my sister, I borrowed her copy and settled down to see what all the fuss was about. I don’t have anything new to say about the plot that hasn’t been summarized in the other reviews, so instead I’ll focus on my reaction to this novel.

I have to say: this book was not oversold. The story lived and breathed, bringing the last days of the Age of Bronze into full vibrant detail. Graham has a real gift for writing descriptive prose. She manages to bring Greece and Egypt to life again. I could smell the sea salt, and feel the warmth of the Mediterranean sun baking into my bones. Graham did copious amounts of research for this book, and it shows because the cultures feel right down to the detail level. It was jarring to me when I realized how young the main character, Gull, is through most of the story, but the hefty responsibilities she shouldered would have been realistic for the society in which she lived.

I got Black Ships from my sister right before I started getting a steady stream of ARCs in the mail. I would end up reading a few pages in between the other ARCs. Unlike most books that you read in bits and pieces, I never had to go back and reread a section to catch up. Black Ships is so memorable that returning to it was like stepping back into another world and having it pick up right where you left off.

I can highly recommend Black Ships, and am looking forward to the other books following the stories of Gull through other lifetimes. Probably even more importantly, I am going to pick up a copy of the Aeneid and read the classic poem that Graham used as inspiration, something my history professor never managed to get me to do.

Black Ships — (2008) Publisher: The world is ending. One by one the mighty cities are falling, to earthquakes, to flood, to raiders on both land and sea. In a time of war and doubt, Gull is an oracle. Daughter of a slave taken from fallen Troy, chosen at the age of seven to be the voice of the Lady of the Dead, it is her destiny to counsel kings. When nine black ships appear, captained by an exiled Trojan prince, Gull must decide between the life she has been destined for and the most perilous adventure — to join the remnant of her mother’s people in their desperate flight. From the doomed bastions of the City of Pirates to the temples of Byblos, from the intrigues of the Egyptian court to the haunted caves beneath Mount Vesuvius, only Gull can guide Prince Aeneas on his quest, and only she can dare the gates of the Underworld itself to lead him to his destiny. In the last shadowed days of the Age of Bronze, one woman dreams of the world beginning anew. This is her story.

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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  1. This sounds interesting! Putting it on my ever-growing list of “books I plan to check out if I ever get through my TBR stacks”

  2. Glad you liked it. It was slower paced than Hands, but they were both worth the reading time. I’m looking forward to the next one.

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