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Black Ships

Black Ships  - Jo Graham This is the story of Gull, a slave born of a slave. Her mother and many people like her were taken from fallen Troy. Gull was allowed to stay with her mother, working the flax that grew along the irrigation ditches until the day an accident left her crippled. Her mother found her another role in life, that as acolyte at the temple of Pythia, she who speaks for the Lady of the Dead. Gull grows up learning the inner mysteries of the Underworld and prophecy. Her life takes her places she could hardly foresee.

Several years ago, back before I became a book reviewer, I read several Jo Graham novels and loved each and every one of them. Having this book rendered as an audiobook does not diminish my enjoyment of her work one bit. This is a beautiful story full of deities who meddle in human affairs, rulers who may care little for the common folk, and ill luck rained down on those already beaten low. Through all these obstacles, our heroes must endure and over come.

Gull, who becomes Pythia, isn’t just some unthinking priestess that reacts to the whims of her goddess. No, quite often she must apply her own knowledge and thoughts to the situation. And yet this balanced by the hand of the Lady occasionally laying heavily upon her handmaiden. I really enjoy this aspect of the book. These ancient peoples were not separate and free of their deities – no! They lived side by side with them, each complimenting the other. However, the writing is clever in that if you don’t have a bend toward the supernatural, you can read all the events and decisions as acts of nature (weather) and/or man-made (hallucinogenic drugs). It is great that the author left it up to the reader’s interpretation.

For those that have studied the fall of Troy and what followed after, there will be touchstones for you to recognize in this book. While my own knowledge is only passing, even I caught a few of these. So often we look at ancient history as rather dry and happening so long ago that it doesn’t touch us personally. This book brings that ancient history alive and puts face and heart to the tale.

Gull’s people are a people without a home. Her wisdom and visions help guide the people as they search for a safe harbor, and later for a more permanent solution. Throughout much of the tale, she gives counsel to Prince Aeneas, the lost prince of Troy. Their travels take them all around the Mediterranean. This allowed our main characters to compare various great cities of the time such as the main cities of Egypt, Byblos, and others.

Gull is far from the only plot-important woman in this story. The author did a good job of realistically portraying women of the time without diminishing their roles in society or in the shaping of history. Also, because Gull’s people are traveling so much, we get a comparison of women’s roles from culture to culture.

This was an excellent book the first time I explored it and it remains an excellent book now. The characters were intriguing and the plot gripping. The ending was very satisfying.

Narration: Gigi Shane was the perfect voice for the Lady of the Dead’s handmaiden, Pythia. Her voice was both smooth and a little smokey, making me think of black veils and secrets. She also had a very nice array of other women’s voices, men’s voices, the young, and the old.