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The Great Ballet of Salamis 306BC ~ History Revisited and Enhanced

 

 

California author Harry Turtledove is one of the most prolific and highly awarded novelists of the day. He attended Cal Tech, then earned his PhD in Byzantine history from UCLA and that initiated his passion for
revisiting and rethinking important moments in all of history. His spectrum of themes is broad and his mastery of alternative history is solid. This reader was first introduced to the author in the anthology AND THE LAST TRUMP SHALL SOUND, a political satire of the first rank co-authored with James Morrow and Cat Rambo, and the impact of that reading experience of his ‘The Breaking of Nations’ opened a need for studying Turtledove’s talent more closely.

Making history come alive is a skill Turtledove has mastered, inviting the reader into a credible scene as he opens this novel: ‘The helmet sat heavy on Menedemos’ head. The cheekpieces covered his ears, too, so that he felt as if he had his finger stuffed into them. Together, the cheekpieces and the nasal squeezed his vision. So did the upper rim of his big, round, bronze-faced hoplite’s shield. The shield was also heavy; keeping it up so it warded the lower half of his face took work. His right hand closed tighter on the spearshaft. The spear was as long as he was tall, and not a weapon he was used to using. He knew what to do with the sword on his belt, but in this kind of fighting, swords were for emergencies, when you’d lost or broken your spear.’ This admixture of earthy painting allows the reader to easily identify with the characters – a major feat for viewing history!

Turtledove distills the action of this new novel well: ‘Salamis is the fifth novel in the critically acclaimed Hellenic Traders universe, detailing the adventures of two cousins, Menedemos and Sostratos, who work as seaborne traders following the death of Alexander the Great. This time the stage is one of the greatest sea battles ever fought in ancient times; the Battle of Salamis of 306 BC. The small, free, and independent polis of Rhodes is trying to stay neutral between the local great powers, each ruled by one of Alexander the Great’s marshals: Asia Minor, controlled by one-eyed Antigonos, and Egypt, under the rule of Ptolemaios. As tensions between the great powers escalate, Menedemos and Sostratos are trying to resolve their own problems, oblivious to the fact that one of the greatest navel fleets in ancient history is about to set sail. Ptolemaios, needing shipping to carry weapons for the army he intends to land, coerces Menedemos into bringing their ship, the Aphrodite, along as part of his expeditionary force. And so, very much against their will, Menedemos and Sostratos become small parts of one of the ancient world’s most significant naval battles.

For pure entertainment and an opportunity to peek at history in a most memorable fashion, Harry Turtledove’s books rise to the top of the list. Very highly recommended


~Grady Harp