Beyond the Bitter Sea
Babylon, 6th century BC: teenaged Gil, an indentured servant, escapes the city of Babylon to search for his missing father, who disappeared on a voyage to the island of Dilmun. Gil leaves behind a fiancée and a young sister. His search eventually takes him to the coast of Sindh (India) and a new life as a coastal trader. A parallel narrative tells of the people Gil left behind in Babylon, and of the fall of that great city to the Persian Empire. The novel spans many years, and Gil’s adventures are numerous. Pirates, lost treasures, romance, and the ruins of long-lost civilizations enhance the plot.
J. G. Knott has done a tremendous amount of research for this, his first novel, and the many maps and appendices provided are helpful to the reader. There is interesting detail about ancient sailing techniques and rigging, geography, and ancient cultures. I enjoyed learning about traffic between the Middle East and India in this early period. However, Knott falls into the trap of telling, not showing. The intricate plot takes the reader to many exotic locales, but the characters could use more emotional depth and the writing, more immediacy. At times the extensive research slows the pace of the tale, and although the parallel stories unite eventually they could easily have been two different novels. Still, readers interested in ancient civilizations and sailing techniques may want to give this book a try.