I thought this was great fun. The writing has been criticised as rather over-wrought – well, it is certainly a little baroque but Chabon's tongue is firmly in his cheek, and there is a wittiness to his descriptions which makes me very willing to go along for the ride. Besides, the sentences may be elaborate, but they are always interesting, utterly free from cliché, and often strange and beautiful:Then, as if overhearing and taking pity on the maudlin trend of his thoughts, the wind carried to his nostrils from the fires of the troops camped in the valley the desert tang of a camel-dung fire, and with it the plangent cry of a soldier-muezzin calling his saddle-weary brothers to a belated Jumuah.
The plot, for its part, is a full-on no-excuses Adventure! tale, with plenty of derring-do and Byzantine soldiers and isolated kingdoms and swordplay. It's like H. Rider Haggard meets…well, meets Michael Chabon.
Unfortunately, the book is rather spoiled by an unnecessary and bizarrely defensive author's afterword, in which Chabon seems to feel the need to apologise to his readership for not having produced another literary novel about modern-day Jewishness. Despite this current novel, Chabon apparently wants to point out, he is still to be regarded as a "serious, literary" author. I can't help feeling that if you find it necessary to attach a lengthy apologia to a book then you shouldn't bother writing the stupid thing in the first place. It is almost unbelievably patronising and irritating.
But try to ignore that, and concentrate on the story itself, which really is unashamedly enjoyable.