Sunday, January 20, 2013

Silk Road by Colin Falconer

Silk Road. Colin Falconer. Atlantic Books (UK). May 2012.  462 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780857891082.

Josseran Sarrazini is a Christian Knight Templar who has a mission to guide a Dominican monk, William, to the far side of the world in what is present-day Beijing. It's the time of the Crusades in the 1500s and there is just as much in-fighting among the Christians as there is against the enemy Muslims who have captured and hold Jerusalem.  The novel begins in Aleppo and covers for years the entire Silk Road from Palestine to Xanadu; not a day passes in which there is not unbridled adventure, murder, passionate challenges and so much more.

Josseran is cynical about his own faith because he is guilty of a great sin, a burden that haunts his days and nights, a darkness the vile monk William senses and never ceases to salt with his sarcastic, scathing words.  For William is the worst of sinners, a man tempted in all ways but externally appearing to be an ascetic who disciplines himself by self-flagellation, a hard thin man whom all dislike because of his mean, vicious, quarrelsome, critical nature.  Josseran finally meets the daughter of a Khan, Khutelun, a spirited warrior who is stronger and braver than any of her brothers, a woman who should have been born a man.  She rides a horse with a wooden saddle for hours without tiring, can shoot an arrow better than most Mongol warriors, and she is chosen to accompany Josseran and William on their journey. Their mission is to forge a union with the highest Khan, to fight together against their common enemy.  But Josseran gradually comes to realize the Mongols have no need of any one's assistance.  What shock then to find that the Great Khan has died and his family is divided as to who should be successor.  Indeed Josseran and Michael might wind up as prisoners rather than emissary friends of whoever is victorious!

All the wonders and life-threatening difficulties of the Silk Road journey are gradually revealed to Josseran as they travel, described with vivid beauty and wonder.  At the same time Josseran is falling in love with his guide, Khutelun, a woman who is destined to marry a prince and perhaps future Khan.  She will save Josseran's life more than once along the way.  William proves to be useful many times although he never stops being a perpetual irritant to all; the reader is surprised that no one eventually tires of his tirades to kill him. 

To say more would be to spoil a truly amazing and wonderful story that manages to stir every emotion and race the heart with tension in realistic ways on multiple pages. Colin Falconer has taken a tale often told and fashioned it into a classic historical novel.  Superb and delightful!!!

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