- Mass Market Paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: Tor Books; First Paperback Edition edition (March 1, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0765350726
- ISBN-13: 978-0765350725
- Product Dimensions: 4.1 x 1.2 x 6.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,943,687 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Sacred Land Mass Market Paperback – February 24, 2005
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HUSTLING FOR AN HONEST DRACHMA
Menedemos and Sostratos, those dauntless traders of the third century B.C., have set sail again--this time to Phoenicia. There Menedemos will spend the summer wheeling and dealing, while cousin Sostratos travels inland to the little-known country of Ioudaia, with its strange people and their even stranger religion.
In theory, Sostratos is going in search of cheap balsam, a perfume much in demand in the Mediterranean world. In truth, he just wants to get a good look at a part of the world unknown to most Greeks. And the last thing he wants is to have to take along a bunch of sailors from the Aphrodite as his bodyguards.
But Menedemos insists. He knows that bandits on land are as dangerous as pirates at sea, and he has no faith in scholarly Sostratos' ability to dodge them. Meanwhile, it turns out that the prime hams and smoked eels they picked up en route are unsalable to Ioudaians. (Who knew?) And then there's the olive oil they've been rooked into taking on board, as they set sail for a part of the world that makes the stuff. Compared to these kinds of headaches, mere bandits seem like a trivial problem. But greater dangers lurk ahead....
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While the book is a little less episodic than the previous ones due to the trip to Judea it isn't as different as you might think. The sailing from town to town has simply been replaced with riding from town to town. They still focus the plot on selling their goods to whoever's buying. It has to be said that the section in Jerusalem features a bit of the future irony I rather disliked in the first book. There it focused on Pompeii and Sostratos' unnatural interest in the quiescent Vesuvius' volcanic nature. Here it is his repeated dismissal of Jerusalem and their god as parochial and unimportant. 'They'll never amount to anything' he thinks. But who said they would? It's quite obvious he's thinking that because of the irony in the statement. Turtledove doesn't do that often but that can make it even more irritating when it shows up.
I think that this book is a minor step down from its predecessors simply because of the aforementioned issues combined with the obvious episodic structure. Still, it's quite clearly within the five-star range. This is book two in the Hellenic Traders series. The other books in this series consist of Over the Wine-Dark Sea,The Gryphon's Skull and Owls to Athens.
Up until "The Gryphon's Skull," the immediate predecessor to"The Sacred Land" I felt that Harry Turtledove (Turtletaub) was a prolific adventure wtiter whose books were hard to put down but were a bit light on characterization. The bulk of his output has been alternate world hard science science fiction themed on the American Civil War and its aftermath and on World Wars I and II. His characters in these books always interact with "famous" people, so that it becomes difficult to really know them, and, to be honest, "Gettysburg" co-authored by Newt Gingrich is a far better written book than all of Turtledove's alternate history Civil war novels put together.
However, first in "The Gryphon's Skull," and now in "The sacred Land" Turtledove has set a standard for other writers of classically themed historical novels to emulate. Rather than play off of a larger theme that he did not create, such as the American wars, Turtledove has re-created for us the merchant trading world of just-post Alexander's Magna Graecia. The development of the main characters in the two novels is complex and wonderful. I couldn't wait for the book's story to get to fourth century BC Jerusalem after beginning in Rhodes and including sojourns on Cyprus and in Sidon. I was fascinated by the people of Phoenicia and Judea as seen through the eyes of the Hellenes.
Please continue the adventures of Menedemos and his cousin Sosistratos, Mr. Turtledove, I can't wait for the next book!
That being said- I found this to be extremely repetitious. The author uses turns of phrase that would be fun if they were not used incessantly. The dialog is mostly covering the same things, over and over again; if these were cut, it'd make the novel shorter and easier to read.
There is a little bit of character growth, but not over 400 pages' worth in my opinion- especially since most of it is the same damn thing over and over.
I appreciate the attempt to make us recognize that nodding and shaking our heads is culturally determined... but when our protags "toss their heads" several times per page, it gets really boring. I don't think that a modern novelist would cite "shaking his head" anywhere close to that often- and if s/he did, like Butcher does with the use of "quietly" to a max of 5 per page (yes, I counted), it is not good.
There are many other mannerisms that also seem to me like filler more than novel.
In short: I am not fond. I love the concept, but I think this execution is sloppy and self-indulgent, and has WAY too much filler.