01/10/2010. Contributed by Ewan Angus
pub: TOR/Forge. 222 page illustrated enlarged paperback. Price: $13.99 (US), $16.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-2473-3.
check out website: www.tor-forge.com
Having not read much of Moorcock until very recently, I didn’t really know what to expect. I’ve read the sardonically sexual ‘Glorianna’, which was nauseatingly excellent with its plot of the Unfullfill’d Queen. For those of you that have read it, you know what I mean, for those of you that don’t, I would advise opening your hypothetical reading mind and leave your shock and Presbyterian ways by the cover.
Then last week on a trip to my newly joined library I came across ‘Wizardry And Wild Romance’, an updated collection of essays Moorcock has written on the state of fantasy. Within he discusses the Merry England aspects of fantasy and the effects/hype/repercussions of JRR Tolkien’s work in the wonderful ‘Epic Pooh’. In terms of subject matter, attitude and overall content, I’d say it’s probably the finest piece of non-fiction I have read in my life.
The book in question here however is a new printing of the Dorian Hawkmoon novel, ‘The Jewel In The Skull’. A fantasy novel in its purest form, Moorcock dives into the genre without using the usual tropes. There is a dark, evil empire but it’s not made up of Orcs or Trolls or Wraiths or Zombies. Nope, it’s the island of Gran Bretan. Yeah. Great Britain. We are the bad guys. Ingenious! Sure its lead by an insane, megalomaniacal king who may or may not be immortal but at least he’s trying.
Following the titular character Duke Dorian Hawkmoon von Köln in his plight against the Dark Empire, it begins with him being captured and taken to Londra. No prizes for guessing where that’s a parody of. Here he is subject to imprisonment and a procedure which places a jewel in his forehead which the Gran Bretans can see out of. He becomes a walking, soundless video camera, which his enemies have the option to switch off at any moment. He is then sent off to kidnap a princess, who he instead falls in love with and then single-handedly declares war on Gran Bretan.
A lot happens in a relatively short space of time and that’s one of the things that made me fire through this book. It only took me a day to read but in that time I was subject to battles, duels, heroics, death, intrigue, love and all the other things you want from the books this site reviews. It was a genuinely brilliant quick-paced narrative that ran smoothly, ornate when needed and hilarious at other times. Moorcock, who lauded the use of it in one of his essays, is a master at the well-timed use of humour.
His characterisation is also spot on, Hawkmoon goes from a broken, self-obsessed loser, to strong, confident leader in just over two hundred pages yet all of his changes are realistic and understandable.
Another great addition to this book is the drawings by Vance Kovacs, interspersed throughout the novel, they highlight certain scenes in a scratchy, black and white way which compliments not just the writing but the novel as a whole.
Gleefully violent, suitably epic and beautifully paced, ‘The Jewel In The Skull’ is understandably one of the greatest works in the genre.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA