the observer Sun 07 December 2008
Chabon has left behind his favoured American urbanites for a historical adventure that follows a giant Abyssinian and his Frankish buddy as they slash and swindle their way round the fringes of Byzantium at the end of the 10th century. Originally a serial for the New York Times magazine, it's short - 190 pages of massive type including big illustrations. Add to that the swift, gory plot and simply drawn characters and you wonder whether Chabon is hoping Hollywood is looking on. Indeed, in a critic-baiting afterword, we're invited to compare it with Don Quixote and Romancing the Stone. The afterword also contains one of the book's most entertaining moments, when Chabon reveals its original title: Jews With Swords.
the guardian Sat 29 November 2008
Set in the Caucasus around the year 950, Michael Chabon's serialised adventure (which first appeared in instalments in the New York Times) was originally to have been titled Jews with Swords. The historical lack of swashbuckling Jews in genre fiction may be explained by the ancient law that forbade Jews from bearing arms. Zelikman, a Franco-Jewish horse-thief, mercenary and swindler circumvents this prohibition by carrying an enormous needle in his belt. Fortunately his partner, a giant African named Amram, is rather more robustly equipped with a mighty axe whose runic inscription reads "Defiler of Your Mother". Between them they hew, chop and jab their way towards the restoration of the Bek, leader of an obscure Black Sea tribe who were among the early adopters of Judaism. If the historical context appears baffling, don't worry, the heroes often seem to be no less confused: "We don't claim to understand this doubled kingship that you live under, it strikes us as over-elaborate."