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Customer Review

on 5 December 2011
Lavie Tidhar's Gorel and the Pot-Bellied God (2011) is a self-styled "guns and sorcery" novella. Mr. Tidhar has created a world that's uniquely his own and written a delightfully Weird pulp tale that could easily sit on a shelf alongside Leiber, Vance and Moorcock.

The titular Gorel is a gun-fighting mercenary of the haunted and close-mouthed persuasion. As the story begins, Gorel has just closed the book on another mysterious campaign, and is returning to his core mission of finding his lost homeland. Gorel's adventurous past is hinted at in a hundred different ways - references to old battles and dead gods among them.

In this particular case, Gorel is off hunting for a particular sort of McGuffin, a magic mirror that, of all things, ties into the (reinterpreted) fairytale of the Frog Prince. Gorel must penetrate an entire culture of frog-people and steal their most venerated artifact. If that wasn't hard enough, he's saddled with untrustworthy allies, a drug habit and the ticking timebomb of an invading army.

Mr. Tidhar's world-building is a joy to read. Starting with a simple folk story, the author has extrapolated a complex mythic tradition and, from there, an entire society. The underlying tale is familiar enough to make the results (however surreal) approachable, rather than overbearing. Gorel himself is a familiar archetype (deliberately so, one suspects), although his companions are much more bizarre - a close-mouthed bird-man and horny batrachian hybrid amonst them. There's a wide variety of sexual hijinks involved (also reminiscent of Leiber), which is somehow more romantic than prurient. Mr. Tidhar uses sex as a means to create emotional bonds (occasionally reluctant ones) between characters, a sort of emotional realism that's often lacking in the fantasy tradition.

The real fun of Gorel and the Pot-Bellied God is just that - the fun. This is an excellent planned and exuberantly executed fantasy about a gunslinging god-slayer in a land where fairy tales transcend anthropology to become biology. At no point does the story veer towards the ponderous or worthy, instead it stays true to its pulp literature antecedents and keeps the pace up throughout. The dialogue is sparse, the description errs on the side of tantalizing and the action is undeniably heroic. This is a story about sex, drugs and frog people - what more could you ask for?
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