The Sun’s Bride
The Eastern Mediterranean, 246 BC. The Rhodian warship Atalanta and her naked crew (that got your attention) come across and destroy a pirate ship. The Atalanta’s helmsman, Isokrates, is in temporary command, and is pleased not only with this victory but also with the discovery that the prisoners that he has rescued from the pirates include the beautiful, wealthy, and cultured Dionysia. Dionysia is carrying a secret that, when revealed, will plunge Isokrates and the republic of Rhodes into great danger.
War and politics interact with other pressures upon Isokrates: his ambition to make his way in the world as a sea officer, and his estrangement from his elderly father arising from a family tragedy years before.
At the risk of an angry letter from the author, I always think of Gillian Bradshaw’s novels as ripping yarns with class. The Sun’s Bride moves at a fast, almost breathless pace, and I mean that as praise, and the cultural and political background are worked in expertly as well. Isokrates does occasionally come out with opinions more likely to be heard from an early-21st-century Western liberal, but most of the time he is credibly tough and driven.
At the end, all the threads of the story have been resolved, if not entirely in the way that the characters would have wanted.
Gillian Bradshaw has done her research, which she outlines in an Author’s Note, and here’s an author who does know that ancient galleys were not rowed by slaves, for example. It is surprising, then, that on page 66, there is a mention of tacking (sailing against the wind), which wasn’t practical until the invention of the lateen sail at a later period.
This novel is highly recommended, and if you haven’t read Gillian Bradshaw, try her Island of Ghosts as well.