This a book few gamers probably ever heard of. It’s off the beaten path when most gamers seem to read science-fiction and fantasy books.
I used to be a hardcore fantasy reader until I branched out to other genres sometime in college.
Louis L’Amour used to be a famous writer of westerns. The Walking Drum is his first crack at writing a novel based on medieval history, and for the most part, it works.
The story is about Mathurin Kerbouchard, a pagan, scholar, warrior, and descendant of the line of Druids who used to live in Brittany. After the Baron de Tournemine kills Kerbouchard’s mother, Kerbouchard flees Brittany to find his father who was a famous corsair in the Mediterranean Sea. His journey begins in 1187 AD.
What follows is a continent-sweeping adventure where basically Kerbouchard takes a grand tour of Europe at the end of the 12th Century to find his lost father and avenge his mother’s death. He begins as a slave, becomes a pirate, then a scholar, then a merchant, then an alchemist, and then a doctor.
He’s sort of like Conan the Barbarian who had a number of occupations over the course of his life, but with Kerbouchard these are condensed into a period of about 4 years. He never becomes a king, however.
The medievalist in me rolled my eyes at how fast he could memorize and copy books, or how much he knew about current events of the time. But this was more of a way for L’Amour to explain what life was like in the late 12th Century–particular in non-Christian areas of Europe like Moorish Spain and later the Middle East. And there’s plenty of action through out to keep the reader entertained.
In my experience, the first 100 pages were slow-going. While in Spain, Kerbouchard discovered that his father was captured on the other side of the Mediterranean. Later he would discover that Old Man of Mountain, The Grand Master of Assassins himself, held his father prisoner in the fortress of Alamut.
It just seemed to take forever for Kerbouchard to get out of Spain and make progress. He ended up spending a lot of time in Cordoba. The story started to pick up when he escaped, along with his beautiful companion, Aziza, to the ruins of Castle Othman.
If you can make it beyond that point, you can probably finish the book as he has a number of adventures as a member of a merchant caravan. He even ends up in Constantinople and meets the Emperor Andronicus Comnenus, before traveling further eastward in search of his father.
You get lost in the medieval world L’Amour recreated.
Just don’t look at this book as basis for facts on Medieval history. L’Amour took some literary license with some of the characters. The Emperor Comnenus, actually died a horrible death a few years before the story even began.
Overall, The Walking Drum is decent book.
Read this if: You’re looking for something beyond the genres you normally read. You like historical fiction. You want some interesting ideas for your RPG campaign.
Don’t read this if: You like characters that develop and change internally as the story progresses. He becomes a bit more worldly by the end of the story, but that’s about it. Also, don’t read this if you’re hardcore medievalist (there’s a saying among historians: “Don’t read or watch any fictional account of the period your study, it will never be accurate enough for you.”)