Friday, 4 May 2012

‘The Dragon in the Sword’ – Michael Moorcock (Grafton Books)

With older series it would sometimes take me years to finish them as I’d have to scour second hand bookshops for the next installment. It all adds to the fun of reading for me with a real sense of achievement the reward for a sustained period of rooting through murky bookshelves (under the watchful eye of a bookshop owner surprised to have a customer on the premises).
All that came to an end though when I was offered my new job, a couple of weeks ago now, and celebrated by going on Amazon and having a little bit of a spree in their ‘new and used’ section. There’s a lot to be said for rooting around in old bookshops (a trip somewhere doesn’t count as a trip until I’ve found the local second hand bookshop) but, in this day and age, there’s also a lot to be said for getting your hands on a book straight away. Why should I have to wait, dammit! ;o) You’re going to be seeing a few slightly older books here then over the next few weeks, it’s nice to look backwards sometimes as well as forwards.

‘The Dragon in the Sword’ is one of those books then. I’ve already read ‘The Eternal Champion’ and ‘Phoenix in Obsidian’ (links to my reviews on the blog) and was keen to see how it all finally played out. I’d actually read the trilogy a few years ago but this final instalment was the one that was the most hazy. ‘The Dragon in the Sword’ is an odd ending to the tale of one of the most interesting incarnations of the Eternal Champion; an odd ending but perhaps a fitting one.

John Daker is the Eternal Champion, tasked with upholding the Balance between Law and Chaos but far more interested in searching for his lost love Ermizhad and a chance at peace amidst the constant conflict. Daker might just have that chance at last with one final quest offering a temporary peace as its reward. A temporary peace is better than no peace at all I guess…
Anyway, if Daker is to have any chance at peace at all he must ready himself for a battle that will take in six interlinked worlds as well as our own. Daker must face cannibal ghost women, smoke snakes and a Duke of Chaos in his struggle but his most implacable foe might just prove to be himself…

In terms of reading, there is surely nothing more satisfying than finishing off a series of books (trilogy or otherwise). Everything is tied up and all your questions are answered, job done :o) That isn’t the case here though and that’s very much down to the subject matter that Moorcock is tackling. The whole point of the Eternal Champion theme is that the fight doesn’t stop for him, not ever. All Daker can hope for is a short break until he is called to arms once more. That’s all well and good, without giving too much away Moorcock does well to convey this point but it comes at the expense of the ending. It’s not an ending, how can it be? It makes more sense when placed against the wider context of the ‘Eternal Champion’ series as a whole (it might even be resolved in ‘The Quest for Tanelorn’ but I don’t even know anymore…) but things just feel unfinished here. It’s a shame but I don’t think there was any getting round this, not without dismantling an entire mythos…

That’s only the last chapter (and possibly a bit of the last one as well) though. The rest of ‘The Dragon in the Sword’ is Moorcock pretty much doing what he does best; giving the reader a thoroughly entertaining sword and sorcery tale taking in worlds strangely alien yet accessible all at the same time.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Moorcock does one hell of a lot in not an awful lot of pages. The page count is two hundred and eighty three pages this time round and, thinking about it, that’s actually a lot more book than I’m used to from Moorcock. Someone gave himself a little more room to write this time round… It’s still not a lot of pages, in general, though and Moorcock does very well to cram in as much as he does.

The worlds that Daker must travel through are lush, pulpy affairs that not only immediately catch your eye but make sure your eye stays caught. We’re talking about worlds where city ships make their ponderous way across dreary marshland, worlds where talking bears hold the secret to travelling into the heart of Chaos. We’re talking about the heart of Chaos itself, where Moorcock is constantly changing the background so that we’re never sure what might happen next. There is a lot of energy in these scenes, in particular, that makes the narrative literally fly along and I was well and truly caught up in it all.

It’s an energy that’s apparent over the whole book as Moorcock doesn’t let the pace meander at all. There is always something going on whether it’s some swashbuckling sword fighting (atop one of the Hulls), perilous quests or a brief detour into Nazi Germany where history is nudged down a familiar path thanks to the intervention of the Balance. I liked that bit, it was perhaps a little obvious but done with enough panache that it didn’t really matter. Moorcock’s ‘Eternal Champion’ books are all about spectacle and that’s very much the case here.

What is most interesting though is Moorcock’s continued treatment of the ‘Eternal Champion’ theme. Here, Daker’s strengths (as the Champion) are turned against him and his only hope of victory lies in rediscovering his humanity. It’s a move, for me, that fleshed out Daker’s character even more and made for some really touching (yet harrowing) scenes where he tries to remember details of his life in the face of losing his very soul.

A storming book then that loses some of its impact with an ‘ending’ that sort of tails off into nothing really... It’s a shame but I’m left wondering if ‘The Dragon in the Sword’ is more about the journey made than the final destination.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Cover Art Courtesy of The Image Hive

1 comment:

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