July 18, 2014

Review: The Journeyer

The Journeyer
The Journeyer by Gary Jennings

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I keep debating whether to knock my rating of this book down to four stars, but I've decided that it's an amazing, fascinating, and enlightening book on its own merits. The problem I have is one of comparison: I loved Jennings's novel Aztec so much, and enjoyed that subject so completely, that The Journeyer suffers in its shadow.

Still, it's a terrific historical novel, filled with the accurate detail, bawdy entertainment, ticklish humor, and curiosity of culture that made Jennings famous. Basically, it's the story of Marco Polo's life and travels, with his journey from Venice along the Silk Road through Persia and Asia as the main event, with much of the book bringing to life his missions for the Kublai Khan. That's all a blast, and really interesting culturally, historically, and anthropologically, with the only weird sour note Polo's intense distaste for the Hindus in India.

Jennings's writing is supple and beautiful throughout, with terrific set piece descriptions, titillating sexual encounters, and believable characters. The level of research he must have done is a staggering accomplishment. It's never boring, and usually deeply engaging and informative.

And yet . . . maybe it's my own cultural biases, but I found the ancient Aztecs much more fascinating than 13th Century Asia. Marco Polo himself was brash and clever, but perhaps too stuck in his own Christian preconceptions to make him as great a narrator as Jennings previously achieved in earlier books.

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