Michael Chabon is known in the comics world as the author of “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay”, a book which draws on the golden age of comics and its creators. He’s also the author of “Wonder Boys”, made into an entertaining film, and the young adult fantasy novel “Summerland”, as well as other fine books.
Chabon’s latest novel is modeled after swashbuckling adventure stories from the pulp magazine era of the first half of the last century (and earlier tales) by writers like H. Rider Haggard, A. Merritt, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, more modern proponents like Fritz Leiber, and many more. Modeled after them, but written with a different sensibility. Chabon’s characters are introspective, conflicted, and modern in many of their thoughts and ideas, contrasting their outwardly heroic exploits. Chabon’s language is a mixture of nods to the past, with grand battles, clever strategies and exotic plot devices, and thoughtful insights into his characters and their personal quirks that you’d never find in the work of the authors cited above, with the possible exception of Leiber.
I enjoyed it, and found the balance of old and new kept me guessing as to where the story would go next, what the characters would do next. The book did not feel plotted so much as reported, yet it all comes together in a well-rounded finale. Thinking back, it was indeed an epic adventure, but coming to it one page at a time, it didn’t seem that way, merely a series of events that got progressively more out of hand for the lead pair of rogues and their confederates.
The pen and ink illustrations by my friend Gary Gianni add a lot to the pulp feel of the book, produced in his usual style, currently seen on the Prince Valiant newspaper strip, for those lucky few who still see it, and on many other illustrated books and comics. His pictures would fit perfectly into any pulp magazine, but the reproduction of them here is much better. Note also the second color ink on the caption below. This entire book uses both black and red ink on nearly every page, a delightful design element that added a lot to my enjoyment of the physical product. Wish more books would do the same. The endpaper map by David Lindroth is also perfect, and the cover by Gianni De Conno is lush and attractive.
Great read, great fun. If you’ve enjoyed other Chabon books, you’ll like this one too. If not, here’s a good way to sample his fine prose.