You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Gentlemen of the Road

I picked up Gentlemen of the Road because it looked like an interesting short book, and it was written by Michael Chabon, whom I had heard good things about. It's an adventure story that takes place in the mid 900's AD in the south Caucasus mountain range, near the Caspian Sea.

Amram is a large African ex-soldier who carries an ax called "Defiler of Your Mother". Zelikman is a pale Jewish Frank and a physician, who has a long thin sword and wears black. They travel together and work as hired swords, or swindle fellow travelers in staged fights. After one such fight, they end up in the company of Filaq, a young man who is a prince of Khazar, a country of Jews. Filaq's father has been murdered and his position seized by an usurper, Buljan, and he is being taken to his mother's family. When his protector is killed, the two travelers decide to take him to his destination, despite the youth's multiple attempts at escape.

When they get to the young man's relatives, they find the place already sacked by Buljan's soldiers. Filaq escapes again, this time with Zelikman's horse Hillel, and they go after them. They help a soldier named Hanukkah, and track the warriors who captured Filaq. When Amram is also captured, Zelikman follows them to a city where the warriors fight off the attacking Northmen. Zelikman heals many of the warriors and townspeople, and Amram, now freed, help Filaq energize the army to march against Buljan, who has allowed the cities to be sacked.

They march to Atil with a growing army. They face intrigue when they reach the city, and are surprised by Filaq's true identity. Amram is captured again, this time by Buljan. Zelikman saved him in the nick of time, and they manage to come up with a scheme to get rid of Buljan and return Filaq to power.

The story, though short, is full of little twists. The dialog is witty and incisive. The characters certainly are well-drawn, and they definitely have a strong background that comes out and influences their actions. The cities and the roads between them are lively and fascinating. I'm sure the author did a good bit of research to give the story such a realistic feel.

I particularly enjoyed learning about the geography and culture of the period. Elephants play a central role in the story, as do politics and economics. Zelikman's fondness for an elephant proves to be an important element. He is known by his love for his hat and his horse, as Amram is known for his ax and his search for his missing daughter. The inclusion of different languages is a realistic touch. The main characters speak different local languages, and it affects how they interact. It's much more realistic than a world where everyone speaks the same language. It's a compelling adventure story, almost like an episode in a larger chronicle. It deserves an A. I will be reading more Chabon soon.


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