Sunday, 21 April 2013

That Dusty Old Highway - SILK ROAD by Colin Falconer

SILK ROAD by Colin Falconer
These are the kinds of historical fiction books I dream of. Richly detailed, well researched, a natural harmony between dialogue and non dialogue - never being too much of one or the other - a lesson in history and some engaging characters thrown in. Oh, and I am a little partial to journey stories too. They are one of my favourite ways for an author to channel an historical adventure story.
These are all facets that I look for in an historical fiction and if they hit the right points of balance then when I come to sections that I may not like, and even the best books in the world have those, it does not ruin the book for me. And Silk Road, she was nearly a perfect girl. Nearly.

The description on the book makes one think that the book is going to be a love story. Between the Tatar princess Khutelun and the Templar Knight, Josseran Sarrazini, but it isn't, well, that is not entirely true, there is some love story in Silk Road although it is not dramatically present. Not a festival of murmured love words and swooning, which is a festival I do not want to buy a ticket to. It is background fodder concerning two adults who knew a dalliance was a waste of time due to their immensely disparate cultures.

As I say though, it was there, but it was background fodder. To my reading eyes the star of the show was the aggravating and annoying Dominican Friar, William. To me this felt like his story and not the story of Khutelun and Josseran. Others may have an alternate view on that, but to me it was all about him and his intractable belief that he could bring Christ to the barbarians. To the Khans of the Steppes. On his way to achieve that he makes life difficult for everyone and everything around him. The tribes, the individuals charged with escorting him, Khutelun, Josseran. He had no allies, only enemies on his pathway over the Roof of the World into the bosom of the worlds greatest Khans.
I found myself wanting often to see him get killed off as he was not a pleasant creature. While I cannot tell you if he is killed off or not, I must admit, he is integral to the story from the beginning and the source of as much humour (the laughing at him, not the laughing with him kind) as the angst.

The world Colin Falconer described here is now piled on top of impressions I already had of the Silk Road. He describes them magnificently and makes you feel and see what the characters feel and see. Falconer dealt with it as if he had been there himself, and I suppose maybe he has if he has travelled to these parts of Asia and the desert nations, for many of these very same markets and landscapes detailed in the book still exist to this day.

The one failing I had with the book was enough for me to give the book 4 stars out of 5. Although, more accurately, 4.5 stars out of 5. There was a section that I cannot go into without spoiling the story for you, where there was nothing happening for about a hundred pages of what was a 460 page book. No real plot or story evolved in this section and I got bored. Luckily the story got back on track and I was able to continue on and enjoy the book enough to feel comfortable in recommending it to others who like this era historical fiction.

Silk Road by Colin Falconer. If you like Templars, Mongols and desert. Think about it. It might be what you are looking for.
- MM

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