cover image A Traveler at the Gates of Wisdom

A Traveler at the Gates of Wisdom

John Boyne. Hogarth, $28 (464p) ISBN 978-0-593-23015-2

Boyne (A Ladder to The Sky) traces a quest for revenge across centuries in this inventive, engrossing novel. Spanning from Palestine in 1 CE to outer space in 2080, the narrative advances through each chapter with the characters renamed and living in a different location and time. The unnamed narrator disappoints his warrior father by becoming an artisan, fashioning sandals in fifth-century Guatemala and amulets in seventh-century Greenland. He loses his first wife on their wedding day to a natural disaster. His second marriage ends in his wife’s death when his cousin spitefully exposes her location to her own vengeful family after the narrator refuses to keep the cousin’s lover on as an apprentice. Full of rage, the narrator feigns muteness and enters a monastery, helping to illuminate the Book of Kells. As he plots revenge against his cousin, he begins sleeping with an ambitious female ruler (alternately Lady Macbeth, a Dutch queen, and a Chinese empress, all of whom keep him in their clutches). He commits a terrible act to escape the empress, which primes him for further tragedies. The conceit of shifting settings (with cameos from Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Ned Kelly, and other famous figures) is handled seamlessly, and the action never ceases. Fans of imaginative historical fiction and tragic epics will enjoy this quirky, lyrical novel. Agent: Eric Simonff, WME. (Aug.)