Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Ship of Ishtar (Planet Stories # 22)

The Ship of Ishtar certainly has an original premise: an unearthed artifact (a toy ship) transports a modern-day archaeologist onto an ancient, very real vessel that is cursed by the gods to sail until a wager between the god of love (Ishtar) and the god of death (Nergal) is resolved. The archaeologist, John Kenton, falls madly in love with a priestess of Ishtar named Sharane aboard ship, but prompts the bitter wrath of a priest of Nergal. Kenton has many adventures while on the ship, but keeps being pulled back to Earth at unpredictable moments. After one such trip, Kenton returns to the ship only to find that Sharane has been kidnapped; so with the aid of some friends, he sets off to rescue her.

A bare description of the plot may not do the book justice, as the story is densely constructed with mythological layers and a very florid style of writing that is very evocative (though it is overdone at points and slows the story to a crawl). Characters are very one-dimensional, dialogue is decent, and there's some zesty description in the action scenes. Although perhaps overlong, The Ship of Ishtar has enough interesting features to recommend it. It's one of those books that fits into the fantasy genre, but is so different than most fantasy that it creates a memorable contrast.

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