Harry Turtledove

Caezik SF


268pp/$16.99/November 2020

Cover by Christina P. Myrvold

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

From 2001 through 2004, Harry Turtledove, writing under the pseudonym H.N. Turteltaub, published four volumes of historical fiction detailing the trading voyages of a pair of Rhodian cousins, Menedemos and Sostratos. Covering the period from 310 BCE through 307 BCE, the cousins not only navigate the western Mediterranean from Palestine to Syracuse, but also have them navigate the difficult political situation as the diadochi, rival generals trying to hold only power in the vacuum that was created by Alexander the Great's death in 323 BCE. Although they had occasional encounters with the diadochi and their forces, for the most part, they remained safe and successful in the trade and travels. In his return to the world, Salamis, Turtledove now brings the characters to 306 BCE and they come face to face with the wars raging across their world.

The novel opens with Demetrios, the son of Antigonos, visiting Rhodes to seek their support for his father's intentions against Ptolomaios. Proud of their status as a free city, the Rhodians refuse to submit to Demetrios, hoping that they will be able to retain their status in the war between the two successors to Alexander. Although Demetrios departs Rhodes, the polis feels the threat of his words and actions, preparing to defend themselves against a possible attack. Menedemos and Sostratos, however, take their ship, the Aphrodite, to make a trading run to Alexandria, a new city and one of the wealthiest in the world. Turtledove once again uses the trader's mission as an opportunity to provide a travelogue of the ancient world, with Menedemos remaining in Alexandria to sell their wares and deal with Ptolemaios and Sostratos taking olive oil into the interior to visit Memphis and have a chance to see the pyramids and the sphinx.

While in the previous books, the two cousins manages to skirt the historical events of their age, briefly meeting Alexander's replacements and other historical characters and leaving one step ahead of historic events, their luck runs out in Salamis. After leaving Rhodes, Demetrios turns his attention to the island of Cyprus and the city of Salamis, where Ptolemaios' brother Menelaos rules the island. When Sostratos is sightseeing along the Nile, Menedemos finds himself bargaining with Ptolemaios who wants to hire the Aphrodite to serve as a supply ship for the fleet that will be going against Demetrios. Although Ptolemaios is willing to pay Menedemos' price, when the Rhodian pushes back, pointing out that Rhodes is free and neutral, Ptolemaios indicates that he would be more than happy to simply confiscate the Aphrodite. The result is that the cousins and their ship find themselves part of the Egyptian armada to Cyprus.

However, the novel is not just a tour of Egypt and a depiction of the titular battle. Events in the cousins' lives that began in the prior novel, Owls to Athens, are having repercussions in their lives. For Sostratos, it is the sadness to see his beloved Athens fall under the sway of Demetrios and the fear that Rhodes will be next. For Menedemos, it is much more personal. When Menedemos leaves Rhodes of Alexandria, his step-mother, Baukus is pregnant, and he does not know if it is with his father's child or his own, for Menedemos loves, or at least lusts, for his step-mother and the two consumated that relationship once in the prior novel. The identity of the child's father, and the possibility that his father will discover that he had been cuckolded by his son, weighs heavily on Menedemos' mind throughout the novel.

In his dedication, Turtledove notes that publisher Shahid Mahmud enjoyed the original series enough to ask him to write an additional novel. While Salamis stands on its own, at the same time, it feels like prologue, for the concerns about an eventual invasion of Rhodes by Demetrios or Antigonos underlie the entire book, especially after Menedemos is forced to allow Ptolemaios to use the Aphrodite. Furthermore, the historical records shows that Demetrios would lay siege to Rhodes the year after the events of the novel, so the situation for an additional book could provide a natural climax for the series. As a straight historical novel, some of Turtledove's fans may be thrown by the like of alternate historical content, but Turtledove has demonstrated before and demonstrates once again that he is more than adept at handling straight historical fiction.

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