Friday, October 26, 2007
Gentlemen of the Road
You know how sometimes when you start a book, and just a few pages in you start to get this sort of buzz? Like "Oh, I'm really going to like this." It's a feeling I get far too rarely theses days. But by page 28 of Michael Chabon's new novel, Gentlemen of the Road I was getting that buzz. Now that's not surprising when you consider that the book, which is subtitled A Tale of Adventure, has a lot of Charles friendly attributes going for it. It's a historical adventure taking place in 950 AD, mostly in the Middle East around Khazaria on the shores of the Caspian Sea. There are swordfights and chases on horseback and deeds of derring do. Plus friendship, Romance, and the lure of far off places. Oh, and Vikings! This is indeed the stuff of high adventure.
Now, add to this the fact that this book is written by Pulitzer prize winner Michael Chabon. The writing is gorgeous, brisk and fast paced, but still full of the sort of elegant turns of phrase you'd expect from Chabon. However, despite it's literary flourishes, this is still a genre book that I would shelve beside the works of Harold Lamb and Talbot Mundy. I've heard it called a Jewish Sword & Sorcery book, but there isn't any actual magic. Still it does have some links to S&S. Though it is dedicated to Michael Moorcock, the creator of Elric, the book is perhaps closer in tone to the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories of Fritz Lieber. It has a pair of of mismatched heroes and that tone of dark humor and sardonic wit. I often found myself grinning as I read along. There is also one sly reference to a character drinking tea imported from Khitai, which is of course the eastern kingdom in Robert E. Howard's fictional Hyborian age. Plus the book is illustrated by Gary Gianni, who did such a fine job on the recent Del Rey Conan and Solomon Kane volumes.
Anyway, I understand that a few critics are aghast that Chabon would waste his literary talents on a mere genre adventure novel. Well there's nothing mere about this one, kids. If you love adventure, exotic locales, the silver of swordplay, and a generous dose of wit and charm wrapped up in a well wrought prose style, then you need to read Gentlemen of the Road. It's a fast read at barely 200 pages and I read it cover of cover at a sitting. And I'll read it again.