Tor Trade Paperback
Last month I reviewed The Jewel in the Skull, the first book in Michael Moorcock’s Hawkmoon series, also known as The History of the Runestaff, which is in turn part of Moorcock’s meta-series about a Multiverse inhabited by various incarnations of a hero popularly referred to as the Eternal Champion. Like the Eternal Champion, the Hawkmoon books have existed in numerous incarnations since their initial publication in the 1960s, the most recent being the edition I am reviewing, a Tor trade paperback featuring full-page illustrations by Vance Kovacs. Never having read the books before, I am providing in these reviews a newcomer’s perspective to the classic series.
In The Jewel in the Skull, the review for which you can read here, we are introduced to an alternate universe where Europe is dominated by the ruthless Granbretan Empire. In many respects reminiscent of medieval Europe, the sorcery of this “sword and sorcery” world draws as much fro
m arcane science as it does from the supernatural, as exemplified in the first two titles of this series: The Jewel in the Skull involves an artifact of science, and The Mad God’s Amulet an artifact of seeming supernatural origin. However, I must remind myself of Arthur C. Clarke’s famous maxim that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” because this is especially so for The Mad God’s Amulet, where Moorcock moves beyond mere adventure and wonder and delves deeply into metaphysical matters only hinted at in The Jewel in the Skull.
The Mad God’s Amulet picks up where The Jewel in the Skull left off, with Hawkmoon and his hirsute companion Oladahn in the Middle East, Hawkmoon having rid himself of the jewel’s curse and eager to return to France, Kamarg, and his betrothed Yisselda. Traveling through the desert, they come upon the ruins of an ancient city called Soryandum, but before Hawkmoon and Oladahn have a chance to investigate it, they are captured by a Granbretan regiment l
ed by the Frenchman Huillam D’Averc. Mysterious wraithlike beings, the original occupants of the city, offer to help Hawkmoon and Oladahn escape from the Granbretans if they will obtain for them an artifact that will allow the beings to save Soryandum from being razed by Granbretan. What follows is a series of adventures as Hawkmoon and Oladahn make their way back to Kamarg through Granbretan-occupied lands, are waylaid by pirates and the cult of the Mad God, and search for Yisselda, whom the Granbretans finally succeeded in kidnapping. Along the way they are first pursued and then joined by D’Averc, whose skill with the blade, urbanity and fluid loyalty make him one of the most entertaining characters in the series. The inscrutable Warrior in Jet and Gold, seen briefly in The Jewel in the Skull, also appears from time to time to guide Hawkmoon on quests that he proclaims are in the service of the Runestaff. What the Runestaff is and how Hawkmoon serves it are not yet fully revealed, but in the transcendent cliffhanger ending of The Mad God’s Amulet the veil is lifted and we catch a first glimpse of what lies beyond.
As I have read these books I have been most impressed by how, while paying tribute to sword and sorcery heroes such as Conan, Fafhrd and Gray Mouser, Moorcock also draws upon medieval romance, a literary genre of great interest to me. For example, in The Jewel in the Skull, Hawkmoon is tasked with kidnapping Yisselda, but instead falls in love with her, similar to what happens in the medieval romance of Tristan and Iseult, Yisselda’s namesake. The Warrior in Jet and Gold embodies the popular trope in medieval romance of the anonymous knight of surpassing valor, while his professed service in the name of the Runestaff and Hawkmoon’s own manifestation as the Eternal Champion echo the idealism of the Holy Grail and the perfect knight. Seeing these types of connections and retellings are extremely gratifying to me as a reader and make this series all the more entertaining.
The Mad God’s Amulet is an excellent follow-up to The Jewel in the Skull, maintaining the same thrilling high adventure while tantalizing the reader with more and more hints of an increasingly complex and awesome Multiverse. The third and fourth books in the series, The Sword of Dawn and The Runestaff, will be published later this year.
© 2010 Arthur Bangs