Friday, 6 January 2012

‘The Champion of Garathorm’ – Michael Moorcock (Mayflower)

There was no way that I wasn’t going to continue reading ‘The Chronicles of Castle Brass’, despite its somewhat lacklustre opening instalment (scroll down for the review or read it Here). For one, Michael Moorcock’s fantasy and sci-fi output has been consistently good enough for me to be able to forgive him the occasional blip here and there. Secondly and perhaps the real reason for my continuing... It took me months (of poring through second hand bookshops) to find all three books in this trilogy, there was no way that I was just going to quit after one book! I’m made of sterner stuff than that.

‘The Champion of Garathorm’ was actually the easiest book of the three to track down, falling into my hands on one of my earliest visits to my favourite second hand bookshop in Plymouth (I love that shop). In an ironic twist though, ‘The Champion of Garathorm’ is actually the middle book in the trilogy and it took me a lot longer to track the other two down. The perils of second hand book shopping... Why aren’t these books being reprinted (what with Moorcock being such a giant in the genre and all)? Anyway...

I picked up ‘Champion’ with some sense of trepidation but was pleased to see that my fears were dispelled fairly early on in the book. While there were other, similar, issues; ‘Champion’ is a much improved read that offers me more hope for the final instalment.

Following the events of ‘Count Brass’, Dorian Hawkmoon’s melancholia sees him draw ever closer to death, unable to accept that his beloved Yisselda died in the Battle of Londra as history states. To Hawkmoon, Yisselda is still alive and he will stop at nothing to find her; to the inhabitants of the Kamarg Hawkmoon is now viewed as a madman who will now never leave Castle Brass.

A chance visitor throws everything up in the air though. Katrina van Bak’s story, of alien demons invading the Bulgar Mountain State, strikes a chord with Hawkmoon and convinces him that the key to Yisselda’s fate is finally within his grasp. If he is to stand any chance of finding his wife though, Hawkmoon must journey through space and time into a previous incarnation of the Champion Eternal. Before Hawkmoon can find Yisselda he must become Queen Ilian of Garathorm and fight in her country’s darkest hour.

I thought that the brevity of ‘Count Brass’ was notable (weighing in at a waiflike hundred and forty pages) but Moorcock takes things even further, in this regard, with ‘Champion’ weighing in at a ‘practically invisible if you look at the book sideways on’ hundred and twenty seven pages. Not a lot of room for a story to work in... Moorcock manages to pull a pretty impressive rabbit out of the hat but I still had some reservations about the overall affect.

In this book, Moorcock seems to have worked through his need to explain everything in an overzealous fit of scene setting. It was rather nice actually to get on with the plot at hand. At the same time though, the amount of attention that Moorcock chose to pay to certain themes made the book feel a little unwieldy and unbalanced given the tight space.

I loved Moorcock’s examination of Hawkmoon’s descent into despair and how his actions were seen as madness by the other residents of the castle. There was a real tragic air over the whole sequence of events, especially as the reader is privy to information that the rest of the cast know nothing about. You get to see a great and noble hero slowly crumble away and it’s really sad.

The thing is though... While Moorcock undoubtedly gave this theme the attention it deserved it was far too much attention for a book this length. The same thing applies to the journey made by Hawkmoon and van Bak (complete with details of where they stayed, whom they stayed with and so on); there just isn’t enough room for this kind of treatment, not if you want the plot and its resolution to come to the fore. Things just felt a little out of balance as a result.

This is a real shame as, when you examine each theme on its own, Moorcock has clearly created an awful lot in a very little amount of space. There’s a whole world here that is as lush and dangerous as it was in the ‘Runestaff’ books. It’s gorgeous and there’s a real joy to be found not only in matching up the place names, to their present day settings, but also in seeing the ways that Moorcock gradually shows the connections between Hawkmoon’s world and that of the much wider multiverse. I’m still not entirely sure how ‘Champion’ can be read as a sequel to ‘Phoenix in Obsidian’ (a little help here?) but I know I’ll have fun finding out.

When the plot gets going (and it does this time) the reader is in for a treat as Moorcock reins everything in firmly and sets it all galloping towards the finishing line. What this essentially means is ‘pulp fun’ full of outlandish weapons employed in the service of heroes trying to fulfil a noble quest. These passages were a real pleasure to read, especially when you find out whom Hawkmoon must face. I was glad to see this particular character back in play (although for how much longer given certain events?) The cliff hanger ending also promises great things for the final instalment.

‘The Champion of Garathorm’ suffers from being a little book with a lot to cover but things are very definitely on the up here and I’m looking forward to seeing how things finally turn out. Worth a look if you can track a down a copy.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Cover Art Courtesy of The Image Hive.


Heloise said...

Well, not exactly a reprint, but...

Xenophon said...

You seem to be on a Moorcock bender lately. I went through all these in my teens and really enjoyed them.

Have you ever tried Roger Zelazny? He wrote with a similar style, as far as simple vocabulary and short novel length,to create a grand scope with limited resources.

If you like Moorcock, I would highly recommend "Nine Princes in Amber"

Graeme Flory said...

Heloise - Ooh... Now I really need to get my hands on a Kindle :o)

Xenophon - I've got a few books left to cover and then I'm done, it's been a great ride for the most part.

I've never read 'Nine Princes in Amber' or anything by Zelzany for that matter. Need to do something about that, thanks for the recommendation.

Anonymous said...

I have been a Moorcock fan for a long time but when I exhausted the sword and sorcery tales, I tried Zelazny but I felt he lacked the mind candy and fast paced adventure that Moorcock's stories gave me. I tried Lieber's Fafhard and the Gray Mouser stories and after I made it through the introductory stories I found them quite intriguing. Much more lighthearted than Moorcock but brilliantly written with characters I grew to care about and with good pace.