Vector reviews Jesus & The Eightfold Path

Vector, the critical journal of the British Science Fiction Association, has recently reviewed Jesus & The Eightfold Path:

Jesus and the Eightfold Path began life as an irreverent brain-nugget: the story of kung-fu Jesus. The final result is less cheeky than you might imagine, fusing classical Chinese novel Journey to the West with the life of Christ as recounted in the New Testament. Plenty of liberties are taken, of course; in Tidhar’s take Sun Wukong, Zhu Bajie and Sha Wujing (“Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy”) do not travel to India to protect the Bodhisattva on his quest to retrieve sacred scrolls but instead voyage to Judea to find the child who is the reincarnation of the Buddha. They are the three wise men who witnessed the newborn Christ, although in this version they eschew excessive wisdom, preferring to indulge vices: food, fighting, women, the usual heroic stuff. The story spans the life of Christ from before birth to shortly after his death, touching upon many of the most memorable Biblical fables – overturning the tables of the moneylenders, now with added kung fu; his love affair with Cleopatra, which was definitely in there somewhere; and ruining the livelihood of local farmers by filling their pigs with demons.

The book is a characteristic example of Tidhar’s writing and storytelling; it repurposes the mythic with a deft touch that retains some degree of familiarity yet introduces enough difference to produce a stark sense of contrast. It also has his characteristic lightness of tone juxtaposed with gravitas and respect for his subject matter. It’s rarely wildly funny but produces plenty of wry smiles. Readers who enjoy laughter lines will find this book does actually crease them up.

However, it inevitably feels episodic; a side-effect of re-telling the life of Christ in under 70 pages. We leap from one set-piece to another and Jesus rarely feels like more than the fulcrum around which the story pivots; even his kung-fu skills provide only intermittent thrills. Still, Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy prove to be fun characters, Roman-Judean agent Josephus Flavius helps lend the last act some thematic weight and the conclusion rings true to its Judaic and Buddhist roots. As a story it could have been longer but that may have led the concept to overstay its welcome. As a result we have this enjoyable compromise.