________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 2 . . . . September 12, 2008

cover The Ancient Ocean Blues.

Jack Mitchell.
Toronto, ON: Tundra, 2008.
1187 pp., pbk., $11.99.
ISBN 978-0-88776-832-3.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Mary Thomas.

***½ /4

Reviewed from Prepublication Copy.


Here I made a serious mistake. I suppose I felt bad about teasing her, so I offered her a trade: she could read the Spurinna memoirs if she lent me her Greek novels. It was only adding fuel to the fire, of course, but I was desperate for something to do. A ship can be a tiny place.

Thus, as we rounded the toe of Italy and began our trip across the Ionian Sea to Greece, I started on The Sicilian Story. To my surprise, I found it quite original. The gallant young hero is forced to leave his homeland of Syracuse on the day before he is supposed to marry a princess, but he gets shipwrecked on a barren shore and then enslaved by an evil landowner. Meanwhile, the princess — our heroine — pretends to kill herself from grief at the departure of the hero. Helped by a fatherly ship's captain, she sails in pursuit of our hero and, unfortunately, gets captured by pirates. The Pirate King takes pity on her, however, and she disguises herself as the evil landowner's uncle and escapes. The Pirate King vows to destroy our hero's homeland in revenge, but after a terrific battle the hero saves the city of Syracuse and marries the heroine. Quite satisfying, I decided.

The next one I borrowed was Hippias and Melite. In this one, when the heroine, Melite, is traveling to Rhodes to marry the gallant young hero Hippias, she unfortunately gets shipwrecked on the barren shore of Egypt, where she is captured by bandits. Hippias, however, disguises himself as a Pirate King (who also happens to be the bandit chieftain's uncle) and...


Marcus, a young farm lad who has come to Rome to live with a older cousin and be educated, loves reading — and declaiming — famous speeches of classical orators. By a series of misadventures orchestrated by his politically minded cousin, he finds himself on a ship bound for Athens and involved in intrigue to do with Julius Caesar's career as an elected official in Rome. Paula, the girl to whom Marcus is betrothed, being in love with the Roman hero he is trying to find, stows away on the same small boat, in the process chucking all Marcus's scrolls of famous speeches with which he had hoped to pass the hours of the voyage into the harbour so as to be able to bring some of her own preferred reading.

      As the above excerpt indicates, these Greek tales were formulaic, exciting (at least the first time!) and romantic. The Ancient Ocean Blues is a slightly more complex version of the same formula: romance, adventure, pirates, disguises, coincidences, and a happy ending. In other words, it is a very funny spoof on the whole genre. When the freed slave-turned-publisher who has travelled with Marcus and Paula starts making hints to which Marcus replies, "Homer, you're not suggesting that I write a Greek romance novel!", it would be a dull reader indeed who had not appreciated that that is exactly what he or she has been reading!

      An author once said to me that there was some excuse for formula writing if one had invented the formula. Jack Mitchell has not done that exactly, but he has taken a storyline that is not precisely current and created a very funny tongue-in-cheek adventure story that will keep a reader turning the pages, laughing all the while.

Highly Recommended.

Mary Thomas lives and works in Winnipeg, MB, but summers on the shores of the St Lawrence River where unfortunately there is not a trireme, or even a bireme, to be seen.

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