Top positive review
Reviewed in the United States on October 23, 2011
In this book, the second one of his that I have read, Chabon narrates a rollicking adventure in a quasi-historical setting. The title characters, Zelickman and Amram, have been compared to Fritz Lieber's Gray Mouser and Fafhrd. However, they are quite distinct from the older pair. They are, quite obviously, a similar pairing of a small, quick man, wiry and capable of actobatics, stealth and scouting, with a larger warrior, able to deliver a finishing blow. However, elements of their back-stories and their actions during the story itself set them off from Lieber's adventurers. I think Zelikman's favorite method of taking out a sentry could have amused the Mouser.
If they had been set down in this setting at the moment that the story started, Fafhrd and the Mouser could have had this adventure but many of the details and possibly the whole chain of events would have been different.
The setting is not an entirely invented world. It is south-central Asia during our own middle ages, centering on the Khazar kingdom The Silk Road is a time-honored setting for adventures and it certainly works here. Unlike Howard and Lieber and even Tolkien, who set up invented worlds, although each is supposed to be our world in an earlier age. His choice of settings allows Chabon to illustrate the awful fate of many women in what some people think of as "the good old days."
The other characters in the book are a little more three-dimensional than the minor characters in Lieber's adventures and much moreso than those in the Conan books. Chabon's mastery of narrative prose is nearly complete.
Chabon's afterward, where he discusses his writing history and how he has written both mainstream and genre works is quite interesting.
The chief flaw in this novel is that it it rather slight.