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September 2011 BOTM: Black Ships by Jo Graham

A monthly discussion on varying themes guided by our members. (Book of the Month discussions through December 2011 can be found in this section too.)
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boswellbaxter
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September 2011 BOTM: Black Ships by Jo Graham

Post by boswellbaxter » Thu September 1st, 2011, 3:41 am

Discuss Black Ships by Jo Graham here.
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Post by lauragill » Thu September 1st, 2011, 6:58 am

I guess I'll go first. This is my second time reading the book, and I have some quibbles with some of Graham's narrative decisions, which I'll mention elsewhere.

Graham has said in the notes to this book and elsewhere that she was inspired by Michael Wood's In Search of the Trojan War; the flax river where Gull's mother and the other women work is called Linaria, near modern-day Koukkonara, and is the same stream shown in Episode 4 of Wood's six-part miniseries. She does a good job evoking the rural atmosphere of ancient Pylos, and in taking the more historically plausible scenario of several Greek expeditions against Troy and running with them.

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Post by The Czar » Sun September 4th, 2011, 7:21 pm

I love the Trojan War, so I downloaded this one. Looking forward to discussing it!
Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results.
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Post by lauragill » Sun September 4th, 2011, 8:25 pm

[quote=""The Czar""]I love the Trojan War, so I downloaded this one. Looking forward to discussing it![/quote]

Thank goodness! I was beginning to think I was the only one reading this book.

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Post by The Czar » Sun September 4th, 2011, 10:52 pm

[quote=""lauragill""]Thank goodness! I was beginning to think I was the only one reading this book.[/quote]

Nope, I read the first chapter already. I'll be done in a couple of days I figure (its finals week where I teach, so I have about 20 hours of "proctoring tests" this week. Should be good for a book or two.)
Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results.
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Post by Ludmilla » Mon September 5th, 2011, 1:33 am

I read it a few years ago when it first came out.

Laura, what were your quibbles with the narrative? I remember really liking the 1st person voice but having some quibbles with the storyline. Overall, though, I liked it. It's been just long enough I can't really remember enough to explain why.

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Post by lauragill » Mon September 5th, 2011, 2:24 am

[quote=""Ludmilla""]I read it a few years ago when it first came out.

Laura, what were your quibbles with the narrative? I remember really liking the 1st person voice but having some quibbles with the storyline. Overall, though, I liked it. It's been just long enough I can't really remember enough to explain why.[/quote]

My quibbles were with the villain and the political situation at Pylos. I know my Mycenaean history, and Nestor, if he lived, was succeeded by his son Thrasymedes, a mature man who went with him to Troy, not some hotheaded young kid. Orestes should still be alive, and High King, not dead this early; he had a very long reign. Neoptolemus, on the other hand, should be dead, having had his ass handed to him either by Orestes or the priests of Delphi.

I asked Graham about this earlier in the year, and she, being unconcerned, said she needed an impressible young king at Pylos, and that was how she wrote it. Sorry, that doesn't fly with me. I feel that an author should respect the source material. S/he can add or fill in blanks where it's plausible, but not change things around like that. It would be like me writing that Agamemnon came home, executed Clytaemnestra and her lover, and reigned another twenty years. If you're writing an AU (alternate universe), you must say so up front.

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Post by Vanessa » Mon September 5th, 2011, 8:29 am

I will be reading it in due course.
currently reading: My Books on Goodreads

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Post by Ludmilla » Tue September 6th, 2011, 2:50 pm

[quote=""lauragill""]My quibbles were with the villain and the political situation at Pylos. I know my Mycenaean history, and Nestor, if he lived, was succeeded by his son Thrasymedes, a mature man who went with him to Troy, not some hotheaded young kid. Orestes should still be alive, and High King, not dead this early; he had a very long reign. Neoptolemus, on the other hand, should be dead, having had his ass handed to him either by Orestes or the priests of Delphi.

I asked Graham about this earlier in the year, and she, being unconcerned, said she needed an impressible young king at Pylos, and that was how she wrote it. Sorry, that doesn't fly with me. I feel that an author should respect the source material. S/he can add or fill in blanks where it's plausible, but not change things around like that. It would be like me writing that Agamemnon came home, executed Clytaemnestra and her lover, and reigned another twenty years. If you're writing an AU (alternate universe), you must say so up front.[/quote]

I do remember thinking the villain was a bit much. I wasn't bothered by creative license with source material (and let's face it, source material about bronze age figures isn't going to be set in stone). The book was clearly marketed as fantasy (that's the section of the bookstore I found the book in). Whether it's AU or just plain historical fantasy, doesn't really matter. I think creative license is allowable. It's going to be purely subjective whether the author can pull it off. Of course, I readily see where someone who knows more about the history is going to be a harder sell than someone who doesn't care about how the history is being used, manipulated, etc.

Have you read Ursula Le Guin's Lavinia? It's another book (published same year I believe) where Aeneas plays a large role. Makes a nice point of comparison. Lavinia is the more literary of the two.

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Post by lauragill » Tue September 6th, 2011, 5:37 pm

I loved Lavinia. LeGuin is a fantastic author, and it's clear that she's really thought about Lavinia and her role in the Aeneas story.

In Black Ships, I really liked the chapter set on the Island of the Dead.
Last edited by lauragill on Wed September 7th, 2011, 6:13 am, edited 1 time in total.
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