Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Author: Gary Jennings
Genre: Historical Fiction
Gary Jennings is royalty in the genre of historical fiction. Aztec, Aztec Autumn, and Aztec Blood are all fantastic original pieces of historical fiction, enthralling readers in a world that now no longer exists. The Journeyer, published 4 years after Aztec, takes us back into 13th century Europe, and fulfills its name. As always, Jennings' descriptions of people, places, and events are stunning and enthralling, sometimes more attractive to the darker parts of ourselves than we care to admit.
We follow a young Marco Polo from La Serenissima, Venice, as he grows into a man and travels with his legendary father, Niccolo, and uncle, Mafio. Along the way, in classic Jennings fashion, we watch Marco become an adult through the somewhat destruction rites of passage (sex and violence) and experience the laws of pre-Renaissance Venice for ourselves as Marco is outlawed from his birth city until another Doge is crowned and he can return.
Jennings takes us from Venice to Constantinople, Baghdad to Cathay, and back again. Medieval Europe is grimy and violent, and the colorful descriptions of death will stay in my mind for a long time after the last page. Marco Polo's sometimes exaggerated adventures seem to fit in very realistically into Jennings' well-told tale.
However, if you've read Aztec, there's really nothing new here. In fact, I don't find Marco as charming character as Mixtli. I personally have always had a penchant for lost cultures, so Aztec had me from the beginning, but I feel like The Journeyer had so much potential that went unfulfilled. There are parts of it that drag, especially after the Yun-nan bit, and some parts are purely unnecessary (like Jennings' multiple descriptions of homosexual relations- one would be fine).
Don't get me wrong, it was still a fantastically written book; most of today's writers can only dream about achieving what Gary Jennings has. Superbly researched and well written, I liked The Journeyer for what it is- a wild adventure that doesn't fall into the traditional knights-in-shining-armor category of classic medieval literature. It's a step into another time and place that is not often explored- medieval China, the Middle East, and India. So often, in historical fiction from this time period, these regions are either cursory or completely ignored- Jennings explores them thoroughly and explicitly incorporates racial prejudices and wars of the time period.
Altogether, The Journeyer is yet another Jennings success. Nostril is actually my personal favorite character (and now you have to read it just to figure out the reason for his name). Don't go out and buy this book if you can avoid it, because it runs about $30.00 in hardback, but it's only $9.99 on the Kindle. It'll be at your library, and you'll want to renew it a few times, because it's a good long read.
By the way, merry Christmas! Buy a book for someone you love, because buying chocolate only lasts a week at the best and power tools only get you so far. :)