Reviews of Over the Wine-Dark Sea (2001)
Review by spiphany (2006-05-12)
Turtledove's knowledge of the ancient world is visibly evident in this novel about two young men sailing a merchant ship during the politically uncertain years after the death of Alexander the Great. The setting is convincingly created and is probably the most effective aspect of the book. However, Turtledove overdoes it a bit and occasionally allows his scholarship to get in the way of the story. He uses a lot of untranslated Greek terms with which the average reader is unlikely to be familiar. Most of the time the meaning is clear from context, but on a number of occasions it is not. And while the book insludes a map and brief guide the weights and money, it does not include a glossary, which would have gone a long way towards remeding the problem. In spite of this, the plot moves briskly and does not linger in long descriptive passages. Lively dialogue also prevents the story from being too dry; the main problem is that Turtledove doesn't always manage to maintain this balance. Sostratos' interest in history and philosophy make it easy for the author to slip in discussions on these subjects, but even so it sometimes feels somewhat contrived and forced. The characterization is only moderately developed but suitable for an adventure story.
On the whole, in spite of a number of flaws which made it merely good rather than excellent, I enjoyed the book. I've been occupying myself fairly intensively with Greek studies in recent months, and I found it was nice to be able to locate many of the terms and details in relation to what I already knew. I particularly enjoyed picking out some of the more subtle Hellenisms, the homage to Greek literature in phrases and expressions which I recognized from my reading.