The Man of Gold is a lush, richly written fantasy novel. M.A.R. Barker’s work is both strongly developed and highly detailed, at levels that few other authors ever attain. Barker spent decades building the living, breathing world of Tékumel. In the 1970s, Barker developed this world into a role-playing setting; later, in the 1980s, he wrote a series of novels set there. The Man of Gold, published in 1984, is the first of these novels.
The protagonist, Harsan, is a talented young monk with the unusual background of having been raised by a non-human, insectoid race. Harsan’s accomplishments as a linguist bring him to the attention of seniors within his order when some ancient artifacts are found that are written in a language that very few know.
Harsan’s adventure leads him from a humble Temple to the Capital of the Empire to an old, desolate swamp of a city. Harsan is caught up in a high-stakes game of political strategy and must deal with religious fanatics and other less-than-savory types who are trying to either kill him or use him. It’s classic stuff, but some of the villains are pretty awful, which increases the tension.
The world of Tékumel — its complex politics, social standards and history — is amazing. The claims that it is as well-envisioned as Middle-earth are a little over the top, but not ridiculous. Barker is a gifted writer to have created this well-realized world.
The Man of Gold is a good book. The pacing seemed uneven at times, but on the whole it was well worth reading and one of the best-developed novels I have read in a long time.