The Gryphon’s Skull
It’s another sailing season for Menedemos and his cousin Sostratos, the traders of luxury items we met in H. N. Turteltaub’s previous novel, Over the Wine-Dark Sea. Menedemos is the good-looking captain of the Aphrodite, superstitious, congenial, a womanizer with a dilemma: he is in love with his father’s young wife. Sostratos, on the other hand, only covets knowledge. When the two cousins find a skull they believe to be from a gryphon, Sostratos decides they must take it to Athens to be studied by scholars.
But the journey will not be easy. It’s the year 309 BC and commerce in the Aegean is in disarray. Alexander’s marshals are fighting each other with murderous zeal. Pirates lurk behind every promontory. As citizens of neutral Rhodes, Menedemos and Sostratos must carry on with business, navigate dangerous seas, contend with shifty passengers with secret agendas, and outwit power-hungry generals.
Turteltaub also writes science fiction under the name of Harry Turtledove. In The Gryphon’s Skull, he aptly describes the commotion and unpredictability of the novel’s period without overlooking or apologizing for practices alien to a modern audience. There is a good measure of scholarship, which often does not advance the story. Additionally, some readers would have appreciated a glossary of Greek nautical terms. Here and there, the dialogue sounds contrived. But some of the images are grippingly realistic: “One of the prowling galleys spotted the Aphrodite and came centipede-walking across the sea toward her, three banks of big oars rising and falling…” Since at the end of the novel Turteltaub leaves some matters unresolved, one may rest assured: there will be more adventures for the Aphrodite and her crew.