Four Torches (Out of Five)
Good writing really is timeless.
Author Michael Moorcock is most famous for his Elric of Melnibone series — some of the most influential fantasy books of the 1970s.
But like all authors, not all of his books reached the same level of popularity. A lesser-known series of his, The History of Runestaff which was written in the 1960s, eventually fell out of print.
The series is another his Moorcock’s “Eternal Champion” mythos, where an ever-changing cast of beings participate in a never-ending war between Law and Chaos.
Now Tor books is reissuring some of the books in that old series, in anticipation of a new Michael Moorcock series, The Sanctuary of the White Frairs, the first book of which will debut in 2011.
The History of the Runestaff, which Tor is now calling the Hawkmoon series (after the main character Dorian Hawkmoon), is worth reading.
First, since most of Moorcock’s books take place in the same multiverse, there are interesting Elric references. In The Sword of Dawn, the latest book to be released by Tor, Dorian even encounters the malignant entity that exists in Elric’s sword Stormbringer (and which causes so much mischief for him).
The Sword of Dawn, like all these books, is classic fantasy in every possible way: the fantasy equivalent of “hard” science fiction.
But Moorcock has always worked on a broader scale than most other authors: the characters travel through time and between dimensions. In this book, Hawkmoon’s kingdom protects itself from the evil enemy kingdom of Granbretan by transporting itself into its own supposedly-unreachable “bubble” in space and time. But Granbretan is more resourceful than anticipated: when it becomes clear that they’re attempting to use to magic to destroy the kingdom, Dorian and his ever-faithful companion have no choice but to go off on a quest to find the Great Sword of Dawn, which they can then use to destroy Granbretan.
But finding the sword is easier than said than done. It requires traveling to different dimensions, battling plenty of alien creatures, and even relying a on the guidance of destiny itself.
There is no deep subtext here, no irony, and little of the existential angst of the type that will come into play in fantasy novels of the late 1970s and 1980s: it’s mostly just exciting adventures and plenty of hacking-and-slashing. In that respect, the book has a certain kind of wonderful innocence.
The writing, meanwhile, is terrific: fast-paced and spare, but evocative. There’s a reason why Moorcock is considered a master of the genre, and he absolutely deserves to be.
The History of the Runestaff continued with four more books after this one, though so far, they are still out of print.