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Over the Wine-Dark Sea Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 381 pages
  • Publisher: Forge Books; 1st edition (July 13, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312876602
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312876609
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #705,429 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

A painless way to learn history is to read a well-researched historical novel such as this latest from Turteltaub (a pseudonym for novelist Harry Turtledove, author of Justinian, LJ 6/15/98). Here, he instructs and entertains with a novel of Rhodes in 310 B.C.E. Menedemos and Sostratos, two very engaging (and very different) cousins, are traders on the Mediterranean in such exotic cargo as silks, wine, and peacocks. Their adventures as they journey from Rhodes to Asia Minor and Italy form the basis of the story. Along the way, we learn about sailing, dress, eating, and other everyday customs of the Hellenistic world. Although the book has maps and a table of weights, measures, and money, it suffers from the lack of a glossary; unfamiliar words frequently interrupt the flow and do not always have contextual clues, limiting the pleasure one would take in this otherwise well-written book. Fred M. Gervat, Concordia Coll. Lib., Bronxville, NY
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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They repeat this at every port along the Greek/Italian coast.
Arch Stanton
By the end of the book, I was thinking that if I had to read the phrase "he tossed his head" one more time, I was going to scream!
And there's a lot of interesting sightseeing, but there sure isn't much narrative tension, and hardly any point to it all.
Michael K. Smith

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By S. Brand VINE VOICE on August 16, 2002
Format: Hardcover
During the first third of this book, I kept checking to make sure it was written by the same author that wrote the sophisticated and dramatic "Justinian", a book that I loved. The two cousins, Sostratos and Menedemos, who are sent on a trading journey across the Aegean Sea seem very immature, continually arguing about insignificant matters, when it seems more realistic that they'd be concerned about guiding their ship and managing their crew. I was amazed that so much of the story focused on trading their cargo of peacocks, which the cousins continually argued and worried about as the peacocks ran around deck and bit the crew.
What I particularly noticed during the first third of the book was the author's unsophisticated writing style in his method of conveying the historical setting. In most historical fiction, you absorb the history through the action, but the two cousins were constantly discussing the ancient writers, describing the different ships, clothing and places, supposedly instructing one another, but it was obvious that their dialogue was meant to instruct the reader. It was an unskillful and unsubtle writing technique.
In spite of these annoyances, the story was entertaining enough to keep me reading as they confronted pirates, got into messes with merchants' wives in places they traded, skirmished with a sword-brandishing mercenary, and had other amusing adventures. There were no intensely violent scenarios, and they always escaped, mostly unscathed, so the mood of the book is pretty lighthearted. In spite of the immature bickering of the cousins, I enjoyed their adventures and was able to form a mental image of the the culture and sights of this early Greek period.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By B. Morse on October 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Reading 'Over The Wine Dark Sea' was, to me, like whetting my appetite for a good ancient-Greece adventure story...the story is plotted out well, as far as pacing and continuity go, but overall I was left relatively flat by this tale.

Menedemos and Sostratos, like the 'Publisher's Weekly' review here on Amazon says, never rise above their station as opposites of one another before the tale concludes. Time and again, the author reminds the reader of the strengths and weaknesses of both, but fails to explore the reasons for the former, nor to deliver any real progression for the characters to overcome the latter.

While the author has obviously done significant research on the time period, and on the trade business of the classical Greeks, one would think that an author such as H.N. Turteltaub (also Harry Turteldove), with such a catalogue of works already generated would produce something a bit more indepth in making a genre-jump from his usual fare.

I found the business about the 'peafowl' to be far too dragged out overall, though it is the crown jewel of their trade voyage, and found myself rolling my eyes and skimming pages each time they were brought up comic relief they work briefly, but the author relies on the squawking birds to 'entertain'a bit too often. There are also several references to a possible attack of pirates, and considering the solution employed by the cousins,'s lively the first time, but when used more than's simply repetitious.

For a reader looking for adventure-lite in the lives of the ancient Greeks...this will serve it's purpose...but for those wishing for more enlightenment and exploration into the era the story is set in, I would recommend other authors, such as Mary Renault, and Steven Pressfield.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By MJR reader on February 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a very clever book that gives the reader a look at another time, over two thousand years ago. While not as good as the author's previous historical novel, "Justanian," "Wine Dark Sea" is a excellent read. You won't find it in most book stores so order it here, you won't be disapointed! ...
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Michael K. Smith TOP 500 REVIEWER on December 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
When he first began writing fiction a couple of decades ago, Harry Turtledove (who is Turteltaub in his everyday suit) was quite good. A Byzantine scholar, he showed a knack for straight historicals (especially the excellent _Justinian_) as well as alternate history yarns with an eastern Mediterranean setting. Then he hit the big time with _Guns of the South,_ and now he has way too many interminable series going at once, and his talent -- while considerable -- has turned out to be a finite quantity that's stretched too thin, the result being that he's now cranking out a great deal of very forgettable verbiage. This story of two young cousins in 310 B.C. on a trading voyage from Rhodes to the Greek colonies in Italy is a separate book (though it now appears to have spawned its own series, unfortunately), so I had hopes for it. And there's a lot of interesting sightseeing, but there sure isn't much narrative tension, and hardly any point to it all. This is Turtledove in "history teacher" mode: "See, the Dorics indicated assent by dipping the head rather than by nodding and dissent by tossing the head rather than shaking it, so I'll be sure to tell you every single time someone dips or tosses." He also insists on rendering place names in phonetic Greek-ified English, which makes the reader uncertain what ports the guys are stopping to trade at -- ignoring the fact that this book is, in fact, written in English, so why bother with that? The main characters also spend a lot of time explaining routine points of everyday life and ship operations to each other for the benefit of the reader -- an annoying device any creative writing student learns to avoid in his first semester. Maybe I'll just go back and reread some of his earlier books.
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