The Sacred Land

Written by H.N. Turteltaub
Review by Adelaida Lower

Sostratos and Menedemos, the young Rhodian merchants and owners of the Aphrodite, are not afraid to take their ship where no other trader will go. Menedemos is a great sailor with a weakness for married women. Sostratos, his cousin, aspires to become a historian and has an insatiable appetite for knowledge. In spite of the new war between Antigonos and Ptolemaios, marshals of the deceased Alexander, the two cousins decide to travel to Phoenicia. From there Sostratos intends to go inland to purchase the famed Engedi balm. But Menedemos doesn’t want his cousin to travel alone, and so the two strike a bargain: Sostratos will take an escort if Menedemos promises not to commit adultery. Sostratos doesn’t know how hard Menedemos, in love with his father’s young wife, has been struggling with the issue. Neither can he suspect that he will be the one to face temptation when he meets the beautiful Zilpah in Jerusalem.

In The Sacred Land, H.N. Turteltaub continues the adventures of Sostratos and Menedemos that began with Over the Wine-Dark Sea and The Gryphon’s Skull. Mr. Turteltaub, the pseudonym of Harry Turtledove, a scholar and bestselling author (Justinian), is at his best when introducing the ancient world. At times in this novel, however, he seems unsure about his readers. He makes a pun with two Greek words, laros (gull) and lagos (hare), without translating them. Then, a little later, he sees the need to explain the shape of the Greek letter omega. Qualms aside, this is a good installment. Plenty of excitement and growth in his characters make The Sacred Land the best novel in the series so far.