Runestaff, The by Michael Moorcock

203 pages

Tor Trade Paperback 

This year Tor rereleased Hawkmoon, Michael Moorcock’s classic sword and sorcery novels originally published in the 1960s, as trade paperbacks with illustrations by Vance Kovacs. Never having read them before and wanting to read more Moorcock, I jumped at the chance to review them. And so I did, reviewing The Jewel in the Skull, The Mad God’s Amulet, The Sword of the Dawn, and now the final book in the series: The Runestaff.

(In discussing the premise of The Runestaff, this review briefly recaps events from the first through third books that might be deemed spoilers. The reader is forewarned.) 

When we last saw Dorian Hawkmoon and his companion Huillam D’Averc, they had attained the fabled Sword of the Dawn in the city of Narleen and had just set sail for Europe in the hope of reaching Castle Brass and Hawkmoon’s bride Yisselda. However, as the mysterious Warrior of Jet and Gold so often says, Hawkmoon serves the Runestaff, whether he wills it or not, and he is immediately reminded of this when unnatural storms and a horde of leviathans diverts the heroes’ course to the city of Dnark, where the Runestaff itself resides. Meanwhile, revolution foments in Granbretan, as Baron Meliadus enlists a handful of fellow nobles to do the unthinkable: end the millennia-long reign of emperor Huon. Meliadus plans to usurp the throne and lead Granbretan through a puppet ruler: Huon’s cousin, Countess Flana Mikosevaar, unaware that Flana is in love with D’Averc and thus sympathetic to Hawkmoon’s cause. At the same time, Meliadus’s confederates search for a means of returning Castle Brass to Kamarg and a way of reactivating the Jewel embedded in Hawkmoon’s forehead and using it to kill him. 

Everything moves at an incredible pace in The Runestaff, with all of the plotlines converging in an action-packed finale. As with the rest of the series, Moorcock covers in two hundred pages what many of today’s authors would spread out over a thousand. This is not to say that Moorcock’s prose is sparse – or that the George R.R. Martins, Tad Williamses and Steven Eriksons of fantasy pad their stories – but rather that whereas some other writers spend a great deal of time adding details so that readers may savor their worlds at the risk of slowing the plot to a standstill, in a “mere” eight hundred pages Moorcock takes readers on an exhilarating thrill ride in a world no less fantastic. There were, however, moments when I did wish that Moorcock gave us just a little bit more, especially at the end of The Runestaff, where following the climactic battle between Granbretan and Kamarg, he wraps up the entire saga in only three pages. A lot happens right at the end, and then suddenly… it’s over. That this is the strongest criticism I can muster – that I want more – attests to just how much I enjoyed this series.

As with the rest of the Hawkmoon books, I highly recommend The Runestaff. These novels helped shape modern epic fantasy, but that is not to say that they should be relegated the status of relics, things to examine solely out of historical curiosity. Forty plus years after its original publication, Hawkmoon remains a powerful and entertaining story well worth reading.

© 2010 Arthur Bangs

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