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Literature / The Journeyer

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The Journeyer is an historical novel by Gary Jennings, first published in 1984. It follows the life and travels of Marco Polo, from his life in Venice as the son of a wealthy (if absent) merchant, across the Middle East and Asia, then through China and back to Venice.

Spoiler alert! Some tropes associated with the novel include:

  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Frequently, when he's younger. Referred to by the Unusual Euphemism "the priest's war." (Five against one).
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  • Anything That Moves: Nostril. A memorable scene includes the use of his namesake for such goings on.
  • Arc Words: "Beware the bloodthirstiness of beauty."
  • Batman Gambit: Marco's revenge in the last third of the book.
  • Bed Trick: Princesses Moth and Sunlight.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Including inventing the bomb. Although it this case, it's probably Justified, as Marco Polo is an historical figure.
  • Bury Your Gays: In a strange mix of Author Appeal and Artistic License, all Muslim men are portrayed as taking their sexual pleasure with men, while women are babymakers only. Marco frowns on homosexuality in general, and terrible things tend to happen to the more important characters who practice some form of homosexuality. Aziz, Uncle Mafio, Nostril, etc.
  • Christianity Is Catholic: The Polo family is from Venice, where most people are Catholic, yet Marco continually refers to "Christians" and "Christianity."
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  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Apparently in medieval China, it was both a trade and an art. Try to hold onto your lunch during the scenes with The Death of A Thousand.
  • Cunning Linguist: In addition to the Italian and French he speaks at the beginning of the book, Marco learns Farsi and a number of other languages through his travels, many of which are learned from his sexual conquests.
  • Disappeared Dad: Marco's father has been gone a long time, due to his work as a traveling merchant.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The Armeniyan Prince in the Levant. Hoo boy. He gets married to a young woman from another region, who is 14 and beautiful. He gets drunk at his bachelor party and decides he doesn't need to wait for his wedding night to deflower her. He then forgets the whole thing and when he discovers she's not a virgin in their wedding bed, he wreaks his revenge by cutting off her nose and lips.
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  • Door Stopper: The paperback runs about 1100 pages.
  • The Dung Ages: Zig-Zagged. While set during the time, Marco comes from a wealthy family, and describes Venice as relatively clean due to the tides washing away refuse. The larger cities are crowded, dirty, and smelly.
  • Famously Mundane, Fictionally Magical: Discussed. Marco, expecting the opulent empires as described in the Bible, is disappointed that the largest cities from the Bible are little more than villages run by tribal chiefs. He also opines that the great leaders such as King David and King Solomon were probably also petty chiefs.
  • Free-Range Children: Marco's mother died when he was seven, and his traveling merchant father was gone for many years at a time, leaving wee Marco to roam the streets of Venice with a pack of orphans.
  • Historical Domain Character: Marco Polo, his family, and Kublai Khan.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: While the Mongols were an extremely powerful people, they have been portrayed as brutal savages. By contrast, in The Journeyer, Marco Polo's dealings with the Mongols shows them as civilized, fair rulers. This is, arguably, Truth in Television, as Marco Polo historically defended Kubilai Khan as an employer and benefactor.
  • Marriage of Convenience: When Nico, Marco's father, returns to Venice in the first arc, he quickly marries a neighbour after finding out Marco's mother passed away eight years previously. As he's going back to the East, Nico needs someone to take care of business and act as a figurehead while he's gone.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Mordecai.
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: Both played straight and averted, although Hui-Sheng is a mellow version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
  • No Dead Body Poops: Averted and discussed. Marco is discovering just how limited his ideas of the world are, and the messiness of death is one example.
  • Street Urchin: Doris and her brother Ubaldo.
  • Twincest: Biliktu and Buyantu.
  • Where Da White Women At?: Zia Zulia and her lover, Micholo the boatman. It's more scandalous when they run off together because he's a slave. Marco seems to wish them well.


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