Jared Millet's Reviews > Gentlemen of the Road

Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon
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's review
Sep 22, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: historical-fiction, audiobook, inner-worlds-book-club
Read from September 26 to 28, 2011

Short version: A big-name high-falutin' literary author writes piece of "Fahfrd & Gray Mouser" fanfic and gets away with it.

Ah, if only all swords n' sandals epics were this beautifully written. I begin to see what the big deal is about the fine attention to language you get from literary writers, but make no mistake - this is flat out pulp adventure in which things happen and there's an actual plot. Fritz Leiber's ghostly fingerprints are all over this tale of two wanderers - a giant barbarian and a slight, sneaky fellow of learning - who set off for adventure on the open road. It finds them in the form of an exiled Khazar prince trying to reclaim his lost crown from a usurper. The only thing that keeps Gentlemen of the Road out of Conan territory is the real-world setting and the lack of magic. Aside from that, all sword & sorcery fans should line up.

Two quibbles that almost made me knock a star off the rating:

1) Part of the plot hinges on a "shocking reveal" that isn't really shocking at all - in fact, you can probably guess what it is just from reading the plot synopsis. I think an author with stronger pulp sensibilities would have been able to hide the "mystery" a little more effectively.

2) The edition I read had an afterword by the author that made it seem as if he was apologizing for writing a book that might not be lit'ry enough for the New Yorker. Maybe that's just how I took it, but it reminded me of a science museum I went to that had a sign apologizing for the evolution exhibit. Writing this good never needs to be explained - it should be left to stand on its own legs.

And that's the thing: this book is wonderfully well written, the characters are marvelously drawn (if more than a little stolen from Leiber), and it has more than enough excitement and laugh-out-loud moments to make me want to read it again.

P.S. Mad props to Andre Braugher, who read the audio version. I've never heard him on an audiobook before, but he was outstanding and a perfect choice for this subject.
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