Monday, May 02, 2011

Gentlemen Of The Road - Michael Chabon 8*

Gentlemen Of The Road is a fantasy adventure novel for readers who don't like orcs and elves but do appreciate a bit of sword play and a pub brawl.  Chabon pilfers outrageously from various fantasy sources, most notably Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion for the character of Zelikman, while the giant African Amram is Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd.

From the 'borrowing' of the main characters Chabon then proceeds to set them on the path so well trodden in the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series of novels. Amram and Zelikman are swords for hire, rogues with good hearts who accept the coin of their employers without giving up their own (admittedly well hidden at times) personal sense of right and wrong. 

The great thing is though, no matter how much of the protagonists character traits, and Zelikman's educated dour and fatalistic mannerisms and appearance could make him Elrik's twin, Chabon writes his swords without sorcery story in such a manner, and with tongue so firmly in cheek, that the book is a real pleasure to read.  The two friends fight, cheat, steal and bicker their way through life, following lost cause after lost cause until they eventually let their consciences lead them into a holy war.

At the heart of the novel is the great love and respect that the two men have for each other, and the heroic feats they are prepared to undertake in defence of the life of their friend, they fight like an old married couple because as life goes, they are almost married, all they really have is each other, the road and their wits.

This highly enjoyable tale isn't really a story of right versus wrong or good versus evil, Chabon's heroes exist more in shades of grey than they do in black and white, but they are good characters to involve yourself with, heroic enough to make you like them, complex enough to keep you interested, and both gifted with a wry, self-deprecating sense of black humour.  Great fun to read, I don't know if Michael Chabon is the sort of author who revisits previous characters, but I would certainly enjoy further volumes of Amram and Zelikman.

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