Black Sails, Disco Inferno

2 minute read

(I am not making this up) A book premised on a 1970s, disco-laden Noir retelling of the medieval Tristan and Isolde legend. Sign me up.

I wanted to like it. Great title, intriguing cover art, interesting premise.

A retelling of the Tristan and Isolde legend, wherein star-crossed lovers Tristan and Isolde die after a forbidden romance. But set in in a 1970s, disco-laden, noir world. In the legend, Tristan is waiting for Isolde’s return by ship and is expecting white sails if she is returning, black sails if not. He dies of grief after his wife tells him it is black sails, and Isolde soon follows him.

Author Bergen pulls a gender swap. Trista is a young woman working in a crime family, mentored by the older Governal. Governal is her mentor and their relationship is wonderfully done. Issy is a young man, working in the “other” crime family. Events throw them together and you have Tristan and Isolde with a little Romeo and Juliet thrown in.

I really wanted to love this book. But the cutesy language and repeated diversions (3 paragraphs about an antique TV nobody is even watching???) really threw me off. The repeated riffs on the music of the era were enjoyable up to a point, but became part of the narrative distraction that kept interrupting the flow of the story. Every time I got up a head of steam, there was a page long diversion into something irrelevant. The constant time shifting and point of view shifting were also more confusing than interesting to me.

The writing and premise are unique, and Bergen is definitely going for something “not like all the other books” out there. On the uniqueness front, it’s a clear success. For the right reader, it will be very enjoyable and quite different than other things they’ve read. I just found the book hard to stick with because every time I worked up some momentum, the story sent me sideways.