Legend tells of the Mirror of Falang-Et, an object which can tell any and all truths, hidden away in the city of the frog tribes and their pot-bellied river god. But there is only one truth that Gorel of Goliris wishes to know—the way back to the great empire he was stolen from as a child, flung by weird sorcery to the far side of the world. Now a mercenary gunslinger, a loner addicted to the touch of the Black Kiss, Gorel seeks out the Mirror in hopes it can lead him home. In order to sneak into the city and purloin its mirror, he forms an uneasy alliance (a literal ménage à trois) with an Avian spy and a half-Merlangai thief. But Gorel was not betting on political machinations, the rivalries of gods, or the frog tribe’s House of Jade getting in his way…
After reading Central Station, I wanted to try out more of Lavie Tidhar’s writing, and while I waited for more of his novels (A Man Lies Dreaming, The Violent Century) to arrive in the mail, I dug into this novella based on its evocative “guns & sorcery” premise. It’s been a while since I was a huge fan of swords-and-sorcery, but I do enjoy a good tale in that vein from time to time, and Gorel did not disappoint. The story is pulpy entertainment ripped from the pages of Weird Tales circa 1935, only modernized a bit… a lot, actually, given all the inter-species bisexual sex and drug use and whatnot that would have made 1930s censors blush. Postmodern pulp, if you will. There’s not much in the way of character development, and while the setting is evocative, the world and its history exists as kind of a generic sword-and-sorcery blur.
But! The story is just oozing with flavor, though, a rich and heady blend of pulp weirdness. The pseudo-Asian barbarian setting is pretty typical of the genre, but Tidhar throws in some unique twists, especially in how he details the frog tribe and their river-god. You can also feel Tidhar channeling the influence of those who have gone before, throwing their styles and ideas into a melting pot of weird pulp fantasy: the fantastic weirdness of Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique, the gritty fantasy-noir of Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar, the lush atmosphere and two-fisted hero from Catherine L. Moore’s Northwest Smith stories, snippets of A. Merritt and Leigh Brackett.
Gorel is an entertaining lark, taking the swords-and-sorcery quest tale of old that’s both an homage to the past and a modernized take on the pulps. It’s fluff, but it’s fun fluff, a good rousing adventure and fast read that will entertain for an evening. It won’t make converts out of people who dislike swords-and-sorcery, but those readers of that genre will find a lot to appreciate here, and I think it should appeal to fans of any of those authors I listed off. It’s too easy to say “they don’t write ’em like they used to anymore;” Gorel and the Pot-Bellied God proves that yeah, sometimes they do, and can even manage to improve on the originals in the process.
Title: Gorel and the Pot-Bellied God
Editor: Lavie Tidhar
First Published: 2011
What I Read: PS Publishing hardcover
Price I Paid: part of a PS Pub grab bag
MSRP: oop hc / $6.50 ebook
ISBN / ASIN: 1848631588 / B006MAZRAU