When Aeneas and his soldiers, battle-weary and almost shipwrecked, arrive on the shores of Carthage seeking refuge they are welcomed with open arms by Queen Dido. Herself an exile, Dido has used her beauty, intelligence and natural power to establish herself as a popular and independent queen. Identifying with Aeneas’ plight, and beguiled by his tales of the war in Troy, she finds herself falling helplessly and passionately in love (with a little help from Aphrodite!). The two marry, but sharing power is something that neither finds easy. His destiny lies elsewhere and he abandons her to establish his own city overseas.
As with her previous novels, Troy and Ithaka, Geras takes a well-known Classical tale and gives it her own twist. The story unfolds, not from the viewpoint of the main characters or the Gods but through the eyes of minor characters: Elissa, the nursemaid; Cubby, the kitchen boy; Iopas, the poet and Anna, the Queen’s sister. These characters are wrapped up in their own problems, with an overarching theme of unrequited love that echoes the main story. Through their interactions with Dido and Aeneas, as well as each other, the classic story is revealed.
The number of narrators distances the reader from becoming fully emotionally involved but gives an overview of the whole Dido story and a glimpse into the various areas of the Classical court from the kitchens to the queen’s bedchamber. The Gods appear regularly to the mortals in order to help them (or cause trouble!). They are a nice touch and help create a magical atmosphere where people are not wholly responsible for their actions.
This is an enjoyable novel for young adults that should appeal both to those who are familiar with the Classical story and those that come to it fresh.