book cover Black Ships Ablaze
by Ken Catran

Novel | 160 pp | Years 58

Getting Started


[ Overview | Author profile | Useful websites | Focus questions ]


This historical novel presents the story of the siege of Troy from the perspectives of two slaves from opposing sides of the battlelines. Bren, the slave of the great Greek hero Achilles, relates events from the perspective of the invading Greek army. Dana, the slave girl of the famous Queen Helen of Troy presents the siege from the point of view of those living in the city of Troy. As the battle reaches its climax and the wooden horse of Troy is taken into the city, both slaves become involved in the outcome of the war.

Ken Catran builds on well-known and popular Greek legends and heroes to weave a tale that presents a personalised view of historic events that immerse the reader into a past time of betrayal and trust. The legends and stories are related in a realistic and convincing way. The reader is immersed into the chaos of battle, deadly court intrigue and the daily grind of the workers who are at the beck and call of their masters. When Bren and Dana break the bonds of slavery, both mentally and physically, they demonstrate that slaves can act more heroically than those who consider themselves untouchable and are idolised as heroes by the people.

Author profile

New Zealand author Ken Catran was born in 1944 in Auckland and now lives with his wife Wendy in Waimate, South Canterbury, on the south island of New Zealand. As well as writing fiction for young adults, Ken has written over thirty scripts for television, a number of which have won awards. His novels reflect an interest in historical, modern day and futuristic themes. He has been short-listed and won numerous awards for his young adult novels, including Golden Prince, Talking to Blue, Blue Murder, Tomorrow the Dark, Voyage with Jason and Fries.

The Christchurch City Library has published an interview with Ken Catran ( as part of a series on New Zealand authors. After reading the interview use the information to complete the Author Profile worksheet.

Useful websites

Ancient Greece


Focus questions

Before reading the book

  • What information is provided in the front cover illustration that gives clues about the nature and content of the novel?
  • Does the blurb on the back cover provide any clues to explain the title of the novel?
  • What famous heroes and places are referred to in the blurb? Conduct some background research into one of these places or heroes to share with the class.
  • The blurb refers to the greatest heroes of Greek legend. How would you define a hero? What qualities do you think make a person a hero?
  • The blurb indicates that this novel tells the story of two slaves attached to opposing sides of a battle. Predict how you think the author may relate the story so that their different experiences are explored?

During and after reading the book

  • In what ways do Bren and Dana demonstrate their slavery (for example, clothing, duties, attitude and behaviour to others)? Make a note of examples as you read the story.
  • What examples of behaviour do the main characters demonstrate to show why they could be considered to be heroes?
  • How do the religious beliefs of the Trojans and the Greeks influence the lives of the people?
  • How do Bren and Dana demonstrate that they do not act and think as slaves?

© Curriculum Corporation 2006