In Bright Air Black, David Vann transports us to 13th century B.C. to give a nuanced and electric portrait of the life of one of ancient mythology’s most fascinating and notorious women, Medea.
In brilliant poetic prose Bright Air Black brings us aboard the ship Argo for its epic return journey across the Black Sea from Persia’s Colchis – where Medea flees her home and father with Jason, the Argonauts, and the Golden Fleece. Vann’s reimagining of this ancient tale offers a thrilling, realist alternative to the long held notions of Medea as monster or sorceress. We witness with dramatic urgency Medea’s humanity, her Bronze Age roots and position in Greek society, her love affair with Jason, and her tragic demise.
Bright Air Black is a powerful, haunting, spellbinding novel; it is a new favorite read of mine thanks to it being enchanting and compelling. It’s beautiful retelling of the Greek Myths of Medea and Jason and the Argonauts captured my heart and imagination from the very first page and this is no surprise that it done this as I am a huge Greek Mythology lover and have studied it from a young age. I was destined to love this novel from the beginning and love it I did!
Bright Air Black begins in a disturbing way, it starts with a sea chase with Medea seated on board. She is aboard Jason’s ship the Argo and she is throwing butchered chunks of her brother over the deck. She brutally murdered her brother moments ago so that she could gain the favor of Hecate the goddess of darkness; in the hope that she will be able to slow down the pursuit of her father and escape him and his wrath. Bright Air Black is told in two parts; Book I is dedicated to the escape of Medea and Jason and the Argonauts and the pursuit of Medea’s father Aeetes. Book I also focuses on Medea as she ruminates on the heinous murder of her brother she has committed, it also focuses on Medea and her love for Jason and what she would do and what she will do for Jason and for her own freedom and ascension as she arrives at Jason’s home of Iolcos.
Book II is a powerful part of this novel and brings us to Medea’s more desperate time and her trickery to ensure the death of Pelias so that Jason can reclaim his rightful throne. However, matters continue to take a downward spiral from this point onward for Medea and she is lead down a destructive path which she will never be able to recover from. Medea soon starts to resent Jason when he fails to act as a king and their subsequent removal to Corinith. Jason’s withdrawal of love and protection for her and their children and the entrance of a love rival named Glauce sets Medea in a rage that is everlasting. Her revenge upon Jason and all those who have wronged her is violent and will have everlasting consequences.
Bright Air Black is a dark, atmospheric novel that will chill you to your core and will stay with you for a long time upon finishing it. It is an incredible novel about the rage and power and will of one woman; Medea. David Vann’s Medea is not like the woman in the original Greek Mythological story but rather Vann’s Medea is a fierce princess and priestess and although she is madly in love with Jason, she at the same time is fierce and she desperately seeks her own dominion to rule.
From the very beginning, this enchanting novel is relentless and there is never a moment to pause and process what you are reading. It is a novel that you can’t help but submit to and fully submerge yourself in; it is a book in my opinion that should be read in one sitting as it is not too long but I warn you, it is oppressively dark, sinister and harrowing, especially towards the end. David Vann has written an incredible, dark, violent modern Greek Mythology tale and it is a tale that you can’t help but surrender to and fall madly in love with.
Vann’s writing is extremely vivid and enchanting. He spares the reader little, especially with his brutal, gory scenes and descriptions of crimes. His gorgeous prose, however, does not just relate to these kinds of scenes but his descriptions relating to nature and the sea are also poetically beautiful and vividly stunning. Vann’s writing is hypnotic and mesmerizing and shockingly brilliant; he has a way with weaving his spell around horrifying scenes with some of the most gorgeous, crafted imagery I have ever read. Vann’s paragraphs were breathtakingly beautiful in a unique, special way. He has mixed short, fragmented sentences with longer more elaborate ones and the result of this is a stunning, uniquely, written novel.
What made Bright Air Black truly special to me was its narration style as the story is told from a third person perspective of Medea and it is all told in the present tense. Many individual lines throughout this novel were that of short bursts with uneven rhythms and I have to admit, it was a little strange at first but when you are pulled into the web of Medea’s thoughts, instincts and emotions you realize that some paragraphs are written like that for a reason. Overall Vann’s writing truly is poetically beautiful and unlike anything I have read before. He enchanted me from the very first page and kept me hooked all the way through without me ever once getting bored and this is so rare for a writer to accomplish these days so thank you, David Vann, for providing me with such a blissful, spellbinding reading experience!
Our protagonist Medea is one of my favorite characters of all time; both in literary form and Mythological form. Medea in this novel is a woman full of rage, raging against everything and everybody and this rage of hers if felt during the whole of this novel. She is never soft, never weak, even in her love for her children she is demanding, intense, and borderline frightening. Although Medea is all of these things you can’t help but admire her. I loved how the author managed to turn somebody like this, with chilling attributes and make her into a somewhat heroic figure, despite all of her evil deeds. How he has managed to do this I do not know but what I do know is that he has expanded on an already fascinating woman in history and has made me fall madly in love with her and her ways.
To conclude I would say of course if you love Mythology, specifically Greek Mythology then this novel is definitely for you! But I would also say to all the readers reading this who have not read much Mythology but would love to then this also is a wonderful novel for you to read. It is a novel full of great storytelling, phenomenal prose and a brilliantly crafted story which will stay with you for a long time! This enchanting novel gets Five Stars from me!
Thank you so much as ever for reading book lovers! I appreciate it so much! Please do comment below your thoughts on this novel and whether you could see yourself reading it; I would love to know! Please do comment whether you adore Mythology of any kind also, I do so much and love talking with fellow readers about it! Lastly let me know whether you have read any other Mythology inspired books, both fiction or non-fiction! Thank you so much as ever for reading!
P.S. Here is a preview of the book for all of you lovely readers to enjoy! Please have a read of the preview and if you find that you have loved what you have read then all you need to do is click the Buy on Amazon button and it will take you straight to the book on Amazon USA! If you are in the U.K. then below I have attached a link to the book for the Amazon U.K. website. I have also attached some links about the author and this wonderful book! Thank you so much again for reading book lovers, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this book!
Amazon U.K. / Goodreads / Book Depository / Publisher; Penguin – William Heinemann
This is such a great review! I read this book a couple of months ago and I loved it. It’s one of the most original and haunting things I’ve ever read. I’m a huge fan of Greek mythology and mythological retellings, and this really is one of the best ones I’ve read.
Thank you so much for commenting Rachel and for your kind words you are so kind!
Ahhh it’s so hard to narrow it down!! I’m a big Iliad fan and really anything having to do with the Trojan War… I also love the tragedies, Medea and Oedipus Rex are probably my favorites. We also read a lot of Ovid in my high school Latin class, and I really loved Echo and Narcissus, and Orpheus and Eurydice. What are some of your favorites??
There are so many I love though, I love any stories which relate to Aphrodite too.
That’s so awesome!!! I love that story so much and it’s so cool that you’re teaching your kids mythology! That would totally be me as a mom. Are you familiar with the book D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths? It was my favorite book when I was younger (probably aged 10 or 11, I don’t exactly remember) and I actually just found my old copy the other day, so it may be time for a re-read soon.
I have not heard of this book at all which is shocking! I will definitely be buying a copy of this thank you so much for letting me know!
You’re welcome! It is so great! Here it is for reference: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/79626.D_Aulaires_Book_of_Greek_Myths
I need to start a list like that!!!
That would be amazing! 😀 With your mythology loving DNA I’m sure they will!!
That is such a cute story. My mom does! She’s the one who bought me the aforementioned D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths when I was younger. My parents are actually on vacation in Greece right now! It’s been my mom’s lifelong goal to go there, and since she retired last year she’s finally making it happen. I am both happy and jealous!
They’re finally headed back today!! They spent a week in Rome, a week in Athens, and a week in the Greek islands. I am majorly jealous and cannot wait to see the thousand pictures my mother has undoubtedly taken!
I’m so excited to find someone else who loves the Iliad so much!!! I’ve only read it twice (haha, ‘only,’ as if it’s not several hundred pages long) but I’m hoping to read it again soon. I totally agree with what you’ve said about myths and legends usually having some kind of foundation in historical truth – I definitely think that’s true of Jesus as well as the Trojan War. I actually haven’t read a lot of nonfiction on the subject, but I have Caroline Alexander’s The War That Killed Achilles on my shelf and I’m hoping to get to… Read more »
Of course! I’m 25. But I never really had a YA lit phase, I’ve always loved the classics etc. So it does not come as a surprise that a lot of the people I’ve bonded with over books have been older than me!
(Sorry for the hiatus in responding!)
Hi Rachel! I am so sorry for my delayed reply to this comment I didn’t see it! It got sent to my spam for the strangest reason so I am so sorry about this. How have you been? (:
I would love to go one day!!! The pictures I’ve seen are so gorgeous!
I’m from Vermont! (Northeast USA.) You mentioned that you’ve been to the US, which states have you visited? 🙂 I’ve been to the UK twice, but only London both times! It’s a lovely city but I’d love to see the UK countryside, even though where I’m from is quite rural!
Oh my god this is so funny
I’m so happy that this worked out so well for you!!
Yes, I love it!!! I read it several years ago but would definitely like to reread it. Have you read East of Eden? It’s the best book I’ve read so far this year, I’m absolutely in love with it.
It is such a small book that it is easy to read again. Plus every time you read it you pick up something new!
I’m actually more of a city person than a country person! I do think it comes from having grown up in the country, though. The city is just much more novel for me. I’m not sure if I could live in a huge city like London or New York for too long, but I do love to visit.
Very true! I definitely do think that is the ideal living situation.
That is so cool!!!
That’s so cool!
Oooh good question! To be honest I am a pretty big fan of modern medicine and technology, haha, so I don’t think I’d trade it… but if I had to, maybe sometime in the Victorian era? I’m not very interested in American history, but Victorian England is so cool!
That is so great. I didn’t have a lot of technology growing up either and I firmly believe that is the way to go! Not that I’m a very conservative or traditional person, usually, but when I see 3 year olds playing with iPads it does make me a bit sad.
Yes, totally! I understand that parents are often exhausted and overworked, but it still strikes me as sort of lazy parenting to just give a kid an iPad to get them to be quiet. I’m not very knowledgable on the subject, but I imagine it’s not very good for their eyes to be staring at a screen so much at that young an age?! Taking them to the park is the right call!
Oh that is so sad! My parents are horrible with technology, which I tend to complain about a lot, but on the other hand I’m kind of glad I didn’t grow up with parents who are on their phones all the time!
Oooh no I have not seen Penny Dreadful but I’ve been meaning to watch it! Thank you for reminding me! The costumes are so gorgeous. I have major wardrobe envy of that era.
I’ve actually never heard of it! But I just looked it up and it looks amazing!! So long, though! Is it worth the length?? The show looks cool too, I love Romola Garai!
Oh it is definitely worth the length it is incredible and I loved it so much. The show also is pretty amazing and yes! She is great too. If you do not read the book atleast watch the show! (:
Oh wow, that’s great!! I’ve read and loved Jane Eyre but that’s actually the only Bronte book I’ve read! And no Hardy or Austen for me yet 🙁 So many books, so little time!! But I have Far From the Madding Crowd on my shelf and am really looking forward to that one.
Awww that is so great! And she’s also a badass woman with an amazing personality 🙂 I love how hard she made Rochester work to get her, haha! She’s just the best. I need to read more of the Bronte sisters for sure!
Did you ever see the new movie adaption? (:
The one with Mia Wasikowska, or is there a newer one? But yes, I loved it! It was such a beautiful film!
I actually saw the recent film adaptation and loved it! I didn’t know anything about the story going into it but have a major girl crush on Carey Mulligan, so I thought I’d go without having read the book and I adored the story. I hate love triangles as well, usually, but I think I’m less critical of them in classic lit than recent YA novels – mainly because they just get so tiresome and I want authors to start getting more innovative with plot! But for classics, it’s alright. You should definitely watch the movie though, it’s gorgeous!
Ooh, that sounds like so much fun! It can still count as a chick flick, it’s a romance and it ends happily after all 🙂
It sounds like so much fun!!!
I first fell in love with her in An Education, but I loved Shame too!!! That movie was so dark and intense, I loved it. And she was so good! I saw her on stage in Skylight on Broadway a few years ago and she was incredible! Are you familiar with that play? I think you’d like it, it’s sort of a romance and the man is much older!
New York is one of my favorite cities in the world, but Chicago is so nice as well! I went there in the winter once and thought I’d die from the cold, but I also went for a few days last summer and it was gorgeous.
I do like jazz music! I’m not very knowledgeable about it though. But I actually went to college in New Orleans, so there was a lot of jazz in that city!
I can’t believe this hasn’t come up yet! Hahhaa I like how our friendship started with ‘what’s your favorite mythological story’ and we’re just now getting to ‘where did you go to college’ lol!
It was amazing!!!! It’s such a beautiful city with so much history and culture! There’s also such a strong community aspect to that city, especially post-Katrina. Because of Katrina and all of the efforts to rebuild the city, my university had a mandatory community service requirement to graduate, so that was really cool, getting to give back to the city. There was always so much going on, all these little festivals on random weekends. My school (Tulane) was uptown in a really nice and clean part of the city, so that was great, I’m not sure I’d want to live… Read more »
I wish you could have seen it!!! They were both so good! I saw the closing performance on Broadway and they were both amazing! I think Carey Mulligan was pregnant at that point too, I don’t know how she managed to do 8 shows a week!
Yes, totally!! I love the classics so much, even when I don’t enjoy the story I’ll usually at least enjoy the writing. I love plenty of contemporary books too, but it’s incredible just how many terribly written ones there are!
Gosh their are so many bad published books out there, I just wish they wrote like they did in the old days!
Oh wow, that sounds amazing!! I’ve read the Robert Fagles translation twice and I really enjoy it, but I’m looking to mix it up so I’m planning on reading the new Caroline Alexander translation soon. I also recently heard of War Music by Christopher Logue which is supposed to be a sort of hybrid translation/adaptation, and I am really intrigued by that premise so I definitely want to check that out. And now I’ll have to keep an eye out for the Cambridge edition too!
Totally!! I’ve frequently said that the Iliad would be my desert island book – it’s the sort of thing you can probably read 20 times and still get something new out of every time. That’s definitely not true of all the books I love. Do you read or speak any Greek? I wish I did but I actually don’t know a single word. So when I say I like certain translations I’m just basing it off the way the words sound in English, and whether or not the translation captures the right tone. But I love foreign languages and translation,… Read more »
Si, parlo italiano! My Italian is definitely not as good now as it was a couple of years ago since I never have an excuse to use it these days! But I can still read it just fine. It’s such a beautiful language, I’m really glad I had the opportunity to study it!
That’s amazing! I’m so jealous, I wish I had grown up learning French. They taught it to us in elementary school, but we didn’t actually learn all that much. I took a few classes later on too so I’m decent at it, but definitely not fluent. Your kids are so lucky!
I do love how they are already learning! (:
I am very very interested in Greek history as well as mythology!! I’ll definitely check that one out, thank you!
Oh wow those sound SO COOL. I will definitely check that out! Do you know the title of any of the books on women? As a feminist and a fan of ancient Greece that sounds right up my alley! I’m going to go broke collecting books on mythology, I just know it…
I’ve been on the website for about 10 seconds and I already see five books I want to read – this is going to be such a slippery slope!!! Thank you so much for enabling my Ancient Greece addiction!
Oh man, I need this one!!! Hector is my favorite character in the Iliad, how about you?
YES, that is so cool!!! I love how scholars devote so much of their lives to just one classics character in particular – it’s so admirable and it gives us all this amazing information!
I agree! If it weren’t for my Latin class I wouldn’t have ended up studying the classics very much at all. I actually did read the Iliad for school, but it was in college, and it was in a really intensive class where we read 12 books in one semester, so we didn’t spend very much time on the Iliad. It’s a story that deserves so much more time devoted to it!
It is a story that you could literally devote your whole life to reading and you still would not be able to decode everything! It really is an epic story (:
Oooh, that sounds amazing!! That would be so sweet of you, thank you! 🙂 I never think of asking for review copies of nonfiction, but that would be such a cool opportunity!
Ohhh I forgot all about Persephone earlier – that’s definitely one of my favorite stories as well!!!! And yes, the minotaur is also great! Also Daedalus and Icarus… so many good ones. This is making me want to do a top 5 mythology stories post at some point!
Oh my god you should definitely do that I would love to read that! (:
You know, I’ve never been sure about this! I’m actually really interested in all different interpretations of Persephone’s character. But I’m inclined to agree with you – I think she must have hated it at first, being taken against her will and all, but I like to think that she wasn’t just a victim, and that she found some happiness there.
Have you heard of the novel Alcestis by Katharine Beutner? It’s a retelling of the Euripides play with a lesbian twist between Alcestis and Persephone – it was a very unique read!
Agreed!!! We need more Persephone-centered novels that aren’t romance. I’m definitely intrigued by the way certain authors spin her relationship with Hades, but we need more about Persephone herself!
Hahaha we really should!!! 😀
Yes, completely!!! There’s so much of our contemporary society that we can see reflected in Greek society and the stories they told – reading mythology feels simultaneously really present and like a fascinating window into the past. It’s such a privilege to have access to these stories they were telling thousands of years ago!
Oooh that sounds so interesting! I know a little bit about Norse and Egyptian mythology but nowhere near as much as Greek – I should probably start reading up on some other cultures!! But there is so much about Greek mythology alone – you could study it for a lifetime and still not get everything!
It was my favorite class in high school! I feel like I learned more in that class than the rest of my classes combined, between the language and grammar and history and art history and literature and astronomy and architecture… I had an incredible teacher and she helped us approach studies of ancient Rome from as many perspectives as possible, so that class really sparked my love for a lot of these things! We translated bits of the Aeneid too which was really cool. I wish I remembered more of the language now! As for gods and goddesses, I’ve always… Read more »
Oh wow, that is so cool!!! I’m envious of that – I wish I’d studied classics more in college! I have a degree in Italian literature, so I got a bit of it with the Aeneid and Dante, and also I have a minor in Art History so there’s always some mythology mixed in there too, but if I were to do it over I’d probably double major in classics!
It was so interesting! I love Dante too, I had to read La Divina Commedia for about three different classes and it never got old.
Seriously!! This is so great! Same here, I absolutely adore art history and really most aesthetic things. I spent my junior year of college abroad in Italy and it was absolutely incredible seeing all of those paintings and sculptures up close!
When I was in Italy I traveled around a bit (France, Belgium, England, etc and then I went to Germany a different time) but I’ve actually never been to Greece, isn’t that tragic?! Retiring in Greece or Italy is totally the dream!!!
Thank you!! I am determined to get there one day! It looks so beautiful, like it’s straight out of a painting or something, I can’t believe it’s a real place!
I know it’s crazy!!
Artemis is just the best. Showing young girls that they deserve to have full control over their bodies and sexuality. So important!!!
And yes, Aphrodite is also great!
I think it’s so interesting that because of the way the concept of the underworld has evolved through history that we now think of it as this horrible, dark, evil place, when it really wasn’t at all – it was just a different realm of the universe. I totally agree that Hades wasn’t evil. When people say that they’re definitely ascribing aspects of different theologies to the Greek underworld. And YES that is SO INTERESTING I am so fascinated by the lack of representations of Hades!!! I’d love to read more about that actually. Also the Bernini sculpture of Hades… Read more »
Totally hahah I have loved talking about mythology with you!!! I’m so glad I have found someone who shares this random passion!
YES totally!!! I love it so much!!!! I know a lot of people who like Greek mythology well enough, but very few people who’d be happy to carry on a week-long conversation about it!
Granted I did disappear for a few days (busy week!) but we have been at it for a while!!! Haha I love it 🙂
Not a chance!! It is so nice to have met you 🙂 (Again, sorry for disappearing – I’m terrible at responding to messages when I’m having a busy week! TGIF lol!)
Oooh true that is a great point that that sculpture is technically a depiction of Hades on earth. That’s so interesting!
Yes, I love that one so much!!! I’ve read the Ovid story but I should really read the George Bernard Shaw play as well!
I will definitely find out the title for you soon don’t let me forget because the book is amazing!
Oh wow, that sounds beautiful!!! Definitely let me know the title when you think of it!
Hahaha, the cover!! But it looks fascinating, thank you so much for the rec!
I know the cover is shocking but honestly, inside is perfect!!
I know, more people need to read this book!!! I’m not sure if it will appeal to people who aren’t already interested in mythology though, so I’m always unsure of whether or not to recommend it!
Here is my review! https://paceamorelibri.wordpress.com/2017/03/09/book-review-bright-air-black-by-david-vann/
Thank you for linking your review I am going to go have a read now thanks!
Aw you’re so sweet!!! Thank you so much!! I need a minute to catch up on all the comments, haha! 🙂
Haha keep up the great work though! (:
Actually that totally makes sense!! I think it could appeal to anyone looking for a strong and cunning heroine. Maybe I’ll try to talk it up more with that in mind. I want more people to read this book!
Same here!!! I’ll read whatever he writes in the future anyway, but here’s to hoping it’s mythology related!!! And I loved the feminist aspects to Bright Air Black so much I hope he chooses to center another one on a female character!
Ohhh wow that sounds interesting! That’s definitely a different take on her character than anything I’ve read before. Now I’m going to keep an eye out for more Persephone books, I’ll let you know if I find anything!
I’m paceamoregelato on Insta! It’s mostly books and cats 🙂 Same username for Twitter, but I rarely use it. I keep meaning to get more into Twitter actually.
Also here on Goodreads if you use that: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/3965659-rachel
Thank you for letting me know I will go follow you now! (:
oooh your Instagram is so pretty!!!!
I love your vintage vibe!
I have two cats, the grey one who’s in most of the pictures is named Percy and he is my baby. The other one is black and fluffy and her name is Lily, she isn’t in as many pictures because she just does not show up very well!! It is so difficult photographing black pets! 🙁 Poor Lily, she’s really sweet and gorgeous but Percy gets all of the attention on social media. Anyway, they are both the sweetest little things, so thank you! I am very obsessed with them, haha.
Haha thank you, it suits him so well 🙂
Haha! I still don’t know how I do to be honest!
Oh my god I love it! I love the name Penelope, and the character of course! That’s so great. I should have given my cats mythology names. Since my cat is Percy sometimes I call him Perseus though!
I actually haven’t read or seen Percy Jackson! I wish I’d read those books when I was younger because I think I would have loved them, but now I don’t read much middle grade or YA so I’m not sure if I’d like them, despite the mythology love! Oooh Alik is such a nice name! It’s hard because there are so many great names from mythology but they wouldn’t necessarily make great names in the 21st century, for example I love the way Antigone sounds but I would never name a child that, lol!
I’ll have to watch the movies then! I can definitely suspend my disbelief with things like that if they’re fun enough.
Hahaha that’s so funny. He knows you too well!!!
Oh yes this sounds amazing! I would love to get it. I’ve dabbled in Greek mythology (and other mythology) so I’m already curious but from what you’ve said about the book, I definitely want to add it to my ever growing collection.
Thanks for the heads up as usual!
Aww I am so glad that you love the sound of this novel it is so incredible!
I’m happy that you have atleast dabbled in it! Was there any stories in particular that you loved? (:
You’re so welcome!!
Ooo… I LOVE the sound of this one, Aimee. Thank you, once again, for a fantastic review:)
The Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearn and a number of James Lovegrove’s godpunk books. And yes, I can see myself reading this one:).
I will have to have a look at these thank you for the recommendation!
You’re very welcome:)
Aww wonderful! You will have to let me know what you think of it if you get a chance to read it!
I certainly will!