Gentlemen of the Road


Michael Chabon




Date Reviewed:

December 8, 2008

entlemen of the Road reminds me of The Princess Bride in that it seems like a good book to read aloud. It is an adventure tale, with no goal other than to tell an entertaining story. However, Michael Chabon will occasionally stop the story telling to show us the true horrors of war or slavery. And then the novel will resume its romp; it some of the serious sections don't seem to belong in the same book. Nevertheless, I will say this is the best thing I have read from Michael Chabon.

The book is about two mercanaries who live in the Middle East around the time of the Crusades. This is not the familiar Palestine territory, but in a (mythical?) kingdom near the Caspian Sea. The two mercenaries are Amram and Zelikman. One is a huge, powerful Abyssinian soldier, the other is a Frankish, thin healer/soldier Jew. It's a mismatched pair of rogues, sort of like Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, though not as witty as those two.

The Amram and Zelikman are busy running scams to bilk the locals out of a few coins, when they happen to encounter a young man named Filaq who is the last survivor of a royal house - all his relatives have been murdered by an warlord who has seized the throne of Filaq's father. Naturally, Amram and Zelikman find themselves caught up in the adventure of returning Filaq to his throne. Eventually, they are made generals as Filaq assembles his army.

Some of the individual plot points are pretty good. Escapes and battles and feats of derring-do. But sometimes I think I lost track of some of the storyline - what was that business with the Jewish merchants about?? This seems like a book with a strong visual content, it could easily be made into a movie. There are some black and white illustrations included, but I wish they had been more detailed (I think the artwork is deliberately meant to imitate old style woodcuts, which were used for interior illustrations in the 19th century novels.)