Thursday, 4 August 2011

‘Phoenix in Obsidian’ – Michael Moorcock (Mayflower)

If you were here around the middle of July you would have caught me almost derailing my own ‘Corum’ review with a tiny rant about how despite Michael Moorcock being such a massive figure in the genre, you won’t really see this reflected on the bookshelves. Seriously, more often than not it’s ‘Elric’ or nothing and that’s really odd considering all the other books of his that could be reissued. I’m building up my collection again and rather than do something stupid like paying £120 for a second hand copy of ‘Stormbringer’ on Amazon (seriously, pick up the Del Rey editions instead) I’ve been mooching around second hand shops and market stalls to see what I can get. The upside of this approach is that you’re more or less guaranteed to find something that you wouldn’t normally; the downside is that it’s invariably the middle volume of a trilogy with no sign of the other two...

That’s what happened to me the other day when I found a copy of ‘Phoenix in Obsidian’ at that really lovely book market on the South Bank (just outside the BFI, you need to pay it a visit). The other two books were missing (of course) but I didn’t let that put me off picking ‘Phoenix’ up. I’d actually read this particular trilogy a number of years ago and had vague memories of each book being relatively stand alone. Luckily for me it was...

John Daker found that he was actually the Eternal Champion Erekose (doomed to fight in the ongoing battle between Law and Chaos) but no sooner has he got used to this particular incarnation then he must fight as someone else entirely.
Erekose awakes to find that not only is he now in a different dimension entirely but he is now Urlik Skarsol, travelling across an icy world having reluctantly answered a cry for help. Who has summoned him though? Erekose has no idea, the only thing he can be sure of is that he really doesn’t want to be where he is right now. The only way he can escape though is to use the very weapon that he has sworn never to touch again...

‘Phoenix in Obsidian’ weighs in at a tiny hundred and twenty seven pages long; the kind of book where you see it and immediately want to feed it up a bit with nourishing bowls of soup before you let it go and play with the big boys. I’m assuming that this is another of the ‘write it up in a week’ books that Moorcock was famed for knocking out back in the day.
Whether this is the case or not, there is a lot more to ‘Phoenix in Obsidian’ than meets the eye at first. Not all of this is a good thing but there is more than enough to make for an engrossing and entertaining read.

The first thing you notice is that there’s a big difference to Erekose that you won’t find in any of the other incarnations of the Eternal Champion. Whereas other incarnations of the Eternal Champion gradually come to realise their pivotal role in the affairs of the Multiverse, Erekose is aware of this right from the start. Not only is this the case but Erekose is also well aware of the fact that his existence stretches across many incarnations of the Champion and he knows every single one of them.
Can you imagine having to live with that kind of knowledge in your head? Moorcock lets his readers know exactly what that’s like with a glimpse into a psyche tortured by recurring nightmares. What did Erekose do that was so bad he has to suffer this punishment? The answer is surprisingly simple, maybe a little too simple in fact as I found myself wondering how big a deal something like this could be. You see Erekose’s reactions at the end though and it does make a kind of sense. The simplest things can cause massive repercussions and this becomes clear as the book progresses.

What I really like about Erekose though is the way that he can put all his emotional baggage to one side and just get the job done when the chips are down. Moorcock does well to let us know that this isn’t all just down to the usual hero stereotypes. Erekose is working on the basis that once he gets this job done then he can hopefully get back to where he really wants to be. There is more than an element of revenge in Erekose’s mind as well and you can’t help but wonder how much of a ‘Champion’ Erekose really is. He’s a hero in the eyes of the people that he helps and that’s all that matters at the end of the day.
A lot of work has clearly gone into making Erekose the character that he is and he’s someone that I really found myself wanting to spend time with; he’s not perfect by any means and that’s the whole point.

The plot itself benefits from Erekose being thrown in at the deep end as it were. He has no idea where he is, or who summoned him, and this means that the book is able to throw loads of questions our way. You can kind of see where it’s going to end (certain parties are perhaps signposted a little too clearly) but the air of uncertainty still keeps things ticking over nicely, just enough for you to want to see how it turns out. When things do kick off, Moorcock proves to be as adept as ever at giving us action packed fights and scenes of mysticism to pore over.

The one complaint I did have though is that Moorcock does insist on going a little far in detailing the background scenery of Erekose’s new home. At times (more often than not in fact) the pacing of the book judders when Moorcock chooses to put the brakes on and pay attention to a throne room or the sites to be seen on a journey. ‘Phoenix in Obsidian’ clearly doesn’t have the room for this kind of approach and it’s clearly not that kind of book so I’m not sure why Moorcock decided to go that route...

I had a lot of fun reading ‘Phoenix in Obsidian’ though so I shouldn’t complain too much. A thoughtful piece that belies its size and is chock full of entertainment at the same time. I’ll be keeping an eye open for the other two books in this trilogy.

Nine out of Ten

Cover art image kindly provided courtesy of 'The Image Hive'.


Mark Lawrence said...

Wow - I read this so very long ago. I'd forgotten all about it until this review. Many thanks.

Marc said...

I believe this is the book known in the US editions as The Silver Warriors, FYI. Used UK paperbacks turn up here now and then, so Americans might find either version in used bookstores.