Hawkmoon: The Sword Of Dawn by Michael Moorcock (book review).

November 14, 2017 | By | 1 Reply More

Michael Moorcock is widely regarded as one of the key figures in the history of British Science Fiction and fantasy, but this reviewer at least came to him relatively recently and the reissuing of this 1968 novel, ‘Hawkmoon: The Sword Of Dawn’, provided the opportunity to decide if Moorcock’s older works are still worth reading. With Tolkien, the two men certainly helped to define the genre through the 1960s and 70s but, while Tolkien’s writing is as popular today as it ever was, Moorcock’s writing has a definite ‘prog rock’ quality to it that pins it to a particular point in time.

What I mean by this is that Moorcock is an experimentalist. His protagonists are often more anti-heroes than heroes and the worlds he describes don’t have the simple good vs. evil morality that typifies the Tolkien tradition. Indeed, where Tolkien carefully handcrafted a single, unified world with a consistent internal geometry, Moorcock leapt about from one universe to another, tying out different things in different places and along different timelines. Where Tolkien saw himself as a sub-creator under God, Moorcock’s realities were haphazardly drawn and chaotically fluid in their structure, to the degree that even the gender of his protagonists could vary from one story to the next.

Like all the best prog rock bands of the era, threw out crazy ideas with a wilful abandon that can sometimes blow the mind. ‘The Sword Of The Dawn’ features characters who hide behind masks at all times, a god-emperor living in an embryonic form within a floating sphere and a far-future world where the leaders of Granbretan want to torture and kill their opponents simply for the hedonistic pleasure of doing it.

Against the destructive evil represented by Granbretan are Dorian Hawkmoon and his allies, who at the start of the novel have found a measure of security in an alternate reality. Hawkmoon knows their sanctuary cannot last when someone else breaks through to their reality so, together with Huilliam D’Averc, he returns to the world where the Dark Empire of Granbretan holds sway to find and if possible destroy the device that allows people to cross between the different planes of existence.

The story itself is episodic and straightforward, betraying Moorcock’s preference for the short story format. Character development is also minimal and, again, there’s something for the prog rock vibe here. For all the experimental ambition behind his writing, the result in this case is actually pretty conventional in execution. For sure, there is plenty of novelty, but for a 21st century reader the shock factor probably won’t be there.

With all of this said, what Moorcock has created here is something entertaining and distinctly different from the much more ubiquitous fantasy patterned after Tolkien. This 2010 TOR edition is also nicely presented with some splendid line drawings by Vance Kovacs, which supplement the weirdness of Moorcock’s world without taking away any of the innovation. Whether or not his older writing still needs to be read is a matter of debate and the degree to which it challenged readers in the 1960s and 70s is hard to appreciate nowadays. But ‘The Sword Of The Dawn’ remains an entertaining and accessible example of what was an important step in the evolution of fantasy fiction.

Neale Monks

November 2017

(pub: TOR/Forge, 2010. 221 page illustrated enlarged paperback. Price: $14.99 (US), $17.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-2475-7)

check out website: www.tor-forge.com

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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  1. I used to love Moorcock’s Multiverse books. Neale is right that they’re episodic. Most of the 120 page volumes consisted of three ‘books’ each about 18000 words long. They were basically separate stories in a series. By writing three, he got a novel. By writing nine he got three novels. They were full of pulpish invention and great fun.

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