Those who have followed Chabon's career will certainly find a rousing diversion here. If there's any moral to be extracted from the book, it's this: "There was no hope for an empire that lost the will to prosecute the grand and awful business of adventure." This might as well serve as a personal credo for the author, whose Afterward offers a defense of his decision to write adventure fiction. At this point, Chabon enjoys the prerogative of extraordinary talent. He can write whatever he pleases, as his far-ranging oeuvre attests.
But his notion that literary culture needs more adventure strikes me as dubious. We are living, after all, in a country overrun by "the grand and awful business of adventure," whether in Iraq or Hollywood's relentless epics of violence.
Literature, though, is about the tumult of people's emotions, more than the gallivanting of their bodies. Its power resides in the heart, not the glands. As much as I admired the exuberance of Chabon's picaresque, I had a hard time feeling much for his characters. I cop here to an antiquated bias: I prefer the adventures that occur inside people.
Note: For a time the working title had really been Jews with Swords. It is lamentable indeed that Chabon did not keep it that way.