Saturday, 14 August 2010

Book review - The Prester Quest by Nicholas Jubber

The legend of Prester John has inspired many books over the years, both fictional and relatively factual. I say relatively, because the whole business of Prester John and the letters he supposedly wrote, is probably one huge medieval hoax.

In 1177, Pope Alexander III wrote a letter to the Priest-King of the Indies, Prester John. As his emissary he chose his physician, Master Philip. No-one knew where the legendary monarch's kingdom lay (or indeed whether he even existed) but Master Philip was undeterred. He supposedly set out from Venice.......and was never heard of again.

Centuries later, Nick Jubber found a copy of the Pope's original letter, and decided to complete Master Philip's mission and deliver the letter, albeit 824 years late. The Post Office would have been proud of him.

The resulting book is well-written, funny, and full of historical facts and detail. Probably the best bits deal with his and his companion, Mike's, travels through the Holy Land. The situation in the middle east and the eastern side of Africa today, is complex. With so many religions and variants fighting each other, and claiming vast tracts of land as their right, it's often very difficult to sort out who's who.

Nick Jubber has a way of explaining things through the eyes of the people he meets. He also compares today's situations with the happenings during the times of the Crusades, and Saladin, and finds that really, very little has changed over the passing centuries.

Probably the best section of this book, is the section devoted to the Holy Land. It does tend to flag a little, when he passes into Africa and heads ever south.

Does he find Prester John? I'll leave that for you to discover............

On the whole, this is a fast-moving narrative, with much to recommend it.

Rating 4/5

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