Friday, 24 September 2010

‘The Sword of the Dawn’ – Michael Moorcock (Tor)

Despite all my talk about ‘wanting to make the journey last’, I found myself reading ‘The Sword of the Dawn’ a lot sooner than I’d expected. The bottom line is that it’s been a rough last few days and I wanted to pick up something that I just knew I’d have a good time with.
The other reason was that, given the ending to ‘The Mad God’s Amulet, I was really interested to see how Moorcock continued the story. Without giving too much away, Hawkmoon’s tale could have stopped quite neatly at the end of ‘The Mad God’s Amulet’ and I was curious to see whether ‘The Sword of the Dawn’ flowed on smoothly or if it came across as being ‘tacked on’. What do you do with a hero once he has nothing to fight against and his cause is done? That’s the question I was hoping ‘The Sword of the Dawn’ would answer...

Dorian Hawkmoon, and the other inhabitants of Castle Brass, are safe from the malign influence of the Dark Empire... but only for now. There is still a way that the armies of Granbretan can finish their work and the evil Baron Meliadus finally achieve revenge for past humiliations. It’s up to Hawkmoon and his companion D’Averc to beat the Dark Empire to the source of this power. Greater games are afoot though. The power of the mysterious Runestaff seeks to bend all to a destiny known only to itself; Dorian Hawkmoon will find that before he can turn his attention to the Dark Empire he must first seek out the fabled ‘Sword of the Dawn’...

A couple of paragraphs ago, I was wondering what you do with a hero once his cause is over and there’s no-one left to fight. If you’re Michael Moorcock, you make sure that your hero gets bored really easily and hankers after unfinished business (even if he’s quite legitimately entitled to hang up his sword and enjoy a nice break). This seems to be a common trait in Moorcock’s Eternal Champions and the ideal tool to get them back in the game and the plot rolling again. This is particularly true of Hawkmoon who doesn’t seem to be able to deal with inactivity that well. Once there’s an opportunity to be adventuring again Hawkmoon doesn’t need asking twice!

I thought the scenario that whisked Castle Brass away from its enemies was pretty water tight and not one that could be circumvented easily. Moorcock proved me wrong but only by turning this scenario back on itself so that there could be a threat once more. It’s done cleverly enough but there was a hint of contrivance about it, almost as if it was there just to get things moving rather than be a part of the story itself. What it does very well though is imbue Hawkmoon with the energy that both he and the story need to really get going. Our man has a purpose once more and things can finally kick off.

And kick off they do! While it’s very much more of the same, in terms of Hawkmoon questing and having to fight off hordes of the enemy, the books holds to a good pace and is never anything less than entertaining at the very least. If you’ve already enjoyed the first two books then not only will you enjoy ‘The Sword of the Dawn’ but I’m pretty sure you’ll find yourself looking forward to seeing how it all ends in ‘The Runestaff’ (keep your eye open for the Tor edition around December time).

Moorcock throws Hawkmoon and D’Averc up against all sorts of horrors, ranging from warriors of the Dark Empire to monstrosities that live in a pool of blood, with a regularity that could become monotonous if left to another writer. It never goes that way in ‘The Sword of the Dawn’ though. Moorcock seems to be enjoying himself here far too much to the book get bogged down in routine. Sure, the same fights happen over and over again but it all makes sense in the context of the story and the wider world surrounding it. The fights are all very exciting to witness as well, with plenty of vicious ‘cut and thrust’ action going on and last gasp reprieves from certain death...

What really shone through in ‘The Sword of the Dawn’, for me, was that this time round things were a little more fleshed out in terms of the characters and their motivations. It’s not just about the fighting this time. We get to see Baron Meliadus gradually become even more insane than he already is as he starts to believe that the Emperor he has fought for is no longer worthy of his service. We also get an insight into the inner workings of the citizens of Granbretan and discover that their hunger for conquest (and the monstrous crimes that they commit). Their lives are so decadent that all they’re really afraid of is boredom. This makes the atrocities we witness all the more repellent as we find out that they are motivated by the fact that the Granbretans, of the Dark Empire, are bored and fancy a change. They’re scared of running out of ideas so have made it a competition of excess instead...

While everything is clearly being set up for the final volume, ‘The Sword of the Dawn’ is self contained enough for the wait on the final instalment relatively easy to bear. I have an old ‘collected’ edition so I won’t be waiting that long myself :o)
‘The Sword of the Dawn’ is another more than solid entry in the ‘Hawkmoon’ series that chooses to build on its predecessors rather than merely ape them. The book is all the better for it and I’m now eager to start on ‘The Rune Staff’.

Nine and a Half out of Ten


lee-tyke said...

Im sure you wont be disappointed with the final part, I enjoyed it anyway.
However the follow on Count Brass trilogy, which picks up after the events in the runestaff, has plenty of flaws and poor plotting which may see you exclaiming 'WTF?'as you throw the book at the wall.
The final book in the 'count brass' trilogy I seem to remember made the trilogy as a whole worth reading and ties up a lot of loose ends to the overall 'Eternal Champion' saga. It kind of made up for the first two sloppy books and made them seem irrelevant to the overall story.
Im sure you will get round to reading them anyways.

Anonymous said...

I waiting for The Runestaff and then I'll be reading all of them in order :)

I like Moorcock's writing. It's great fantasy. Good review!

Anonymous said...

Glad you are enjoying Moorcock - he is without doubt my favourite fantasy/SF writer. I recommend the Dancers at the End of Time books as surely the most unique, well written and utterly absorbing SF/fantasy I've ever read. A real modern classic.

Graeme Flory said...

Lee - It might be a little while before I get onto the 'Count Brass' books, I've got the Corum books to read first :o)

Okbolover - Hope you enjoy em' as much as I did :o)

Anon - I'm sure I'll work my round to that one, eventually!