A major influence on writers like M.John Harrison, China Mieville, David Gemmell and dozens of others, this book is made up of four more or less independent novels, each following on from the other. This is a future world dominated by the Dark Empire of Granbretan whose neurotic warrior castes wear heavy masks to which they are deeply attached. They are slowly conquering Europe and those who resist them are ruthlessly extinguished. Dorian Hawkmoon, Prince of Koln (Cologne) is dragged back to Granbretan in chains and there they plan to use him to betray Count Brass of the Kamarg, one of the few independent kingdoms holding out against them. They imbet a black jewel in his skull by which they will be able to trace his movements and see what he sees. Unfortunately they don't allow for the power of love. Hawkmoon falls in love with Ysselda of Brass, the Count's daughter, and then begins a series of action-packed tales which don't slacken until the very last page, full of colour, brooding Gothic landscapes, battles and blood. It's easy to see how this book was a seminal work, as Moorcock's Elric stories were, on the generations which came after it. It's also very easy to enjoy wholeheartedly for what it is and what it was always intended to be. It's a rattling good tale of demons, heroes, magic and corrupted science which makes it the forerunner of all the 'new wave' science fantasy (magic and science mixed, frequently against the background of almost Dickensian London) being published today. And it's still better than everything which came after it!
This omnibus edition brings together the original series of 4 Hawkmoon novels, first published in 1967 & '68, who later reappeared in the Chronicles of Castle Brass trilogy. It tells the tale of his struggles against the evil empire of Granbretan. Great Britain, the evil empire? By Moorcock's own admission in the foreword to this, it was done "In a spirit consciously at odds with the jingoism of the day". Which is why, also we are presented with a German as a hero.
As the author also says, these lack something in the way of polish, and they were written "as popular entertainments", "in the hope that they would help readers pass their time without feeling they were wasting it". In that he succeeds admirably, which is why I'm happy to give it 4*, but Moorcock always had a tendency to let his strengths get in the way of good storytelling. In particular, he is prone to deus ex machina. At one moment his heroes will be happily chopping their way through dozens of enemies & escaping; the next time, they'll be captured by half-a-dozen in a similar situation. And there's never a feeling of "whether" for me, only "how" their escape will be engineered.
Deus ex machina is clumsy enough when used sparingly, and these are riddled with it. In fact, in the second of the four, we're told there is no coincidence, everything is being guided by the eponymous Runestaff! In many ways, this is stock, pulp, swords & sorcery fantasy of an earlier age (including that practically every author who tried to describe the use of weapons got it 'orribly wrong!). What sets it apart & above, of course, are the author's strengths - his vivid & often wild prose, and his equally wild & vivid invention. It's knockabout fun, really, a series of encounters & escapes, of fights & battles & disasters, near or full, lifted by author's undoubted quality. Certainly good enough to have achieved the author's stated aim, but not 5*, for me, despite his iconic status in the genre.
The coruscating, decadent world of the runestaff and of Dorian Hawkmoon is a triumph of the imagination. More positive than Elric, less haunted than Corum, Dorian Hawkmoon is a very convincing and sympathetic Eternal Champion. The alternate reality Moorcock depicts is also original and intriguing, as are the martian fantasies of Leigh brackett and c.l. moore.
Having read the Runestaff series a long time ago, along with a lot of Moorcock' s other works, I was curious to see how the tales of Hawkmoon stood up to time and one word comes immediately to mind: "Intemporal". In a world of high tech terminology and instant communication the style of Moorcock's writing is a pleasure to read and a lesson to be learnt in articulation...and storytelling. A master at work and I look forward to reading more of Moorcock's works again soon.
In a collection of books that put Lord of the Rings and many other fantasy writers to shame, Moorcock weaves a story of fantasy and chaos, of hope and desperation.
The four books project you into a very dark and bloody past, through which tales of pure excitement, adventure, and moments of nail-biting fear, will force you to turn pages frantically, to discover the plight of the characters. There are no moments of boredom, and the writing style and plots are both of the highest calibre. They culminate into a ending of spectacular genius, of which the four books are worth reading in order just to see.
The world feels extremely real, and the author writes in a way that makes it feel three-dimensional; that it extends far and wide, and beyond the scope of where the story leads you. The characters in it are superbly handled, as befitting of a fantasy story, without unbearable clichés but with descriptive vigour that defines them clearly and attaches their well-being (or in the case of the wickedly evil characters, their misfortune) to your emotions, making each page turn more exciting.
These books are old, and have been republished so many times it should quell any doubt as to whether they are worthy of reading. If you love fantasy, you will love these books.