OVER THE WINE-DARK SEA

H. N. Turteltaub, Author
H. N. Turteltaub, Author . Forge $25.95 (381p) ISBN 978-0-312-87660-9
Reviewed on: 06/25/2001
Release date: 07/01/2001
Mass Market Paperbound - 480 pages - 978-0-7653-4451-9
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There's a mountain of solid scholarship entertainingly dished out in this fact-based historical tale of an ancient trading mission in the years following the death of Alexander the Great. But the featureless "and then" narration renders the story at once engrossing and flat. Dispensing facts chiefly through dialogue, Turteltaub not so much narrates as lays out the trading journey of the Aphrodite, under the command of two Rhodian cousins, Menedemos and Sostratos, as they attempt to carry, among other items of cargo, a peacock and some peahens safely from Rhodes to Pompeii in Italy. Along the way, the cousins, who are paired off like an ancient Greek version of Oscar and Felix (Menedemos is the roustabout, Sostratos the accountant), take their own and each other's measure and play a part in larger historical events. But because there is little authorial direction—with everything communicated through his characters' mouths, third-person narration is almost nonexistent—the story and the history are flavorless and forgettable. Turteltaub (familiar to readers of science fiction as Harry Turtledove) may have intended this stripped-down style to add to his tale's realism, but there is little life behind his impressive armada of facts. And since we share their thoughts but little of their inner life, the two main characters rarely rise above their schematic position as opposites. The journey of the trading vessel Aphrodite may have covered hundreds of miles, but the reader will end this novel still waiting for the book's real journey to begin. (July)

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