Sword of the Dawn, The by Michael Moorcock

Tor Trade Paperback
August 2010
221 pages

Earlier this year I reviewed The Jewel in the Skull and The Mad God’s Amulet, the first two books in Michael Moorcock’s Hawkmoon series. Originally published in the 1960s, the series has been reprinted by Tor this year in the form of trade paperbacks complete with cover art and interior illustrations by Vance Kovacs. As with my reviews of the first two books, this review of The Sword of the Dawn approaches the third entry of the Hawkmoon series from the perspective of a first-time reader and focuses on the Tor trade paperback edition.

(In discussing the premise of The Sword of the Dawn, this review briefly recaps events from the first and second books that might be deemed spoilers. The reader is forewarned.)

The Mad God’s Amulet concluded with a game-changing moment of epic awesomeness in which Castle Brass and the people of Kamarg escaped the encroaching Granbretan army by means of interdimensional travel courtesy of an artifact supplied by the mysterious Warrior in Jet and Gold. The Sword of the Dawn opens with Dorian Hawkmoon’s nemesis, Baron Meliadus of Granbretan, seething over his frustrated ambition, fearful that the failed siege he led has ruined his reputation in court, and obsessed with determining how to find and defeat Hawkmoon and Lord Brass once and for all. These early pages are an illuminating snapshot of Granbretan court and politics that serves to develop Meliadus’s character and reveal cracks within the seemingly monolithic Granbretan Empire. Meanwhile, in another dimension, the arrival of a Granbretan playwright at the relocated Castle Brass signifies just how real and dangerous the possibility is that the Meliadus will discover the means to reach our heroes. Thus begins an exciting race in which Hawkmoon and his companion Huillam D’Averc try to stop Meliadus from finding the way to Castle Brass, a race culminating in a new quest: to find the legendary Sword of Dawn.

Like the first two books in the series, The Sword of the Dawn is classic sword and sorcery, filled with weird magics and technologies, nonstop action, almost superhuman feats of bravery, and a sizeable body count. Hawkmoon and D’Averc are a dynamic duo with a repartee reminiscent of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and like the golden age of pulp magazine adventures, the heroes’ exploits are episodic in form, as each time they escape or overcome one strange and terrible peril they find themselves face to face with a new one. Yet as the Warrior in Jet and Gold so often reminds him, Hawkmoon serves the Runestaff, even though in the thick of adventure he may not realize it – and even though he may not want to serve it. Thus beneath the surface of a rollicking adventure is a narrative epic in scope.

Vance Kovacs’s cover art and interior illustrations in the Tor trade paperback once more provide excellent visualizations of Moorcock’s literary renderings, including in this volume the Sword of the Dawn itself. An item of such mystical power and narrative importance, the Sword of the Dawn is a daunting task for an artist to depict (and thus invite the inevitable outcry of some fans who will say that it was not how they imagined it), and in my opinion Kovacs proves himself up to the challenge. As good as the interior illustrations are, though, the cover artwork of Zhenak-Teng’s sphere is even better.

With The Sword of the Dawn, Moorcock ups the ante once again, maintaining the same exciting pacing and adventure of sword and sorcery while raising the stakes ever higher. It is with great anticipation that I look forward to both reading and reviewing the fourth and final book of the series, The Runestaff, which will be out in December.

© 2010 Arthur Bangs

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