Category Archives: Books

And Then I Read: HAWKMOON: THE SWORD OF DAWN by Michael Moorcock

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Image © Michael Moorcock.

This third of four books about the warrior Hawkmoon’s struggles with the empire of Granbretan is very much a segment of the larger story. It begins with a synopsis of what happened in the first two volumes, and ends with an unsatisfying “to be continued” non-ending. That aside, it was entertaining, though not as good as the first book of the quartet, “The Jewel in the Skull.” It remains to be seen how satisfying the final book will be when I read it.

Hawkmoon, Count Brass, and the entire city of Kamarg have escaped the domination of the evil Granbretan empire by slipping into an alternate version of their Earth which seems to have no human inhabitants. It’s quiet and rather boring to the warriors of Kamarg, and even to the regular folks there. When a new person shows up on the border of the city, Hawkmoon is quick to investigate, and soon a troubling alternate method of reaching them is revealed. Hawkmoon and his friend Huillam D’Averc decide they must return their own world to investigate, try to find the sorcerer who has pierced their hiding place, and retrieve his devices and knowledge. The process is made easier by the fact that nearly everyone in Granbretan’s capital city of Londra wear ornamental masks covering their entire heads, a handy plot device. The quest and pursuit of Hawkmoon and D’Averc of the sorcerer, and themselves by their arch-enemy Meliadus of Granbretan, make up the first half of this volume. The second half dumps them in a distant land they know nothing about where they must contend with desert predators, river monsters, and pirates before reaching a special sword that can help them on a larger quest engineered by a mysterious figure who keeps popping up in the series, the Warrior in Jet and Gold.

The story and characters are appealing, the action and adventure keep things moving, but overall this entire book feels like the middle section of a long movie, and had me wishing for some resolution that won’t arrive until the final book, “The Runestaff,” apparently.

Mildly recommended.

And Then I Read: THE ART OF NEIL GAIMAN by Hayley Campbell

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Images © Hayley Campbell and Neil Gaiman.

The newest hardcover about Neil is a coffee-table book of modest proportions for the genre: about 8 by 10 inches. At 320 pages with about half text and half photos, illustrations and documents, it’s full of information about Neil and his writing. After being given free rein in Neil’s archives, author Hayley Campbell does a fine job with the text, getting lots across in an entertaining way, not getting bogged down in detail, but not missing much of Mr. Gaiman’s large volume of work. And I bet looking through it all must make him tired, it would me! I think I learned the most about Neil’s early work before he got into comics, and about his movie work, some of which I hadn’t been aware of at all.

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I hope this won’t come across as snarky, but I found it amusing that there are lots of examples of Neil’s own handwriting, which I find hard to read. It made me glad we’ve nearly always worked together with him on keyboards. I imagine there are plenty of Neil fans who will have no trouble deciphering it.

Neil’s SANDMAN has been by far the most written about in other books, so the somewhat light coverage here is perfectly understandable. Hayley Campbell does consider Neil’s other comics work in more detail, and of course his novels, stories, poems, children’s books, audio recordings, TV and movie scripts, and more. Inevitably there will be a few things missed, or not discussed well enough for each reader’s satisfaction, and I had a few of those moments myself, but in all it’s a fine book, a great read, and an excellent record in both the visual and written sections. Well done.

Highly recommended.

Rereading: THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

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First edition, above, I’m rereading this and all the Holmes stories on my phone when I have the odd moment. I first read some of them in my teens, and then I discovered The Annotated Sherlock Holmes in our local library, and devoured all the stories and novels over a summer, I think, probably in the late 1960s. It’s been long enough that I don’t remember any details about many of the stories, even though I watched the Jeremy Brett TV adaptations and loved them. Having them as a free download on my phone and iPad through iBooks has been a delightful bonus from Apple.

These stories pick up Holmes and Watson’s crime-solving career some years after he was apparently killed in the story, “The Final Problem.” That was Doyle’s attempt to kill off the characters he’d grown tired of writing about so he could concentrate on other books and characters. His audience badgered him for more, though. A few years after the death of Holmes, Doyle wrote the most famous Holmes novel, “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” though setting in before Holmes’ death, which rather than assuaging his audience made them even more vocal in asking for more. At last Doyle gave in, and in the first story here, “The Adventure of the Empty House,” Watson is astonished to find a living Holmes once more on his doorstep inviting him to participate in a new case. I’m not going to plot outline the stories in this book, you can find that HERE, but I certainly enjoyed these tales every bit as much as the earlier ones. True, there is some repetition of types of cases, but Doyle always makes them interesting, and in each story manages to add a few fascinating details about Holmes that we didn’t know before.

If you haven’t read the Sherlock Holmes stories, I envy you the experience. And with the short stories you can really start almost anywhere and have a great time. Recommended.

And Then I Read: THE EL DORADO ADVENTURE by Lloyd Alexander

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Image © estate of Lloyd Alexander, illustration by Stephen Marchesi.

This is the second of a series of six books written by Alexander featuring Holly Vesper, and the first I’ve read. It takes place in the 1870s, mostly in the fictional Central American country of El Dorado, which is similarly placed to Costa Rica on the map, though it has some of the features of Panama. Holly Vesper is a spunky American teenager from Philadelphia who inherited a good deal of money from her deceased parents, and is now cared for by an aunt and uncle. She apparently enjoys making expeditions to obscure corners of the world, accompanied by her Uncle Brinton, and appears fearless, venturing into any possible danger with enthusiasm. Being a very modern sort of heroine, she gives the book a slightly Steampunk feel, though the adventure is more along the Indiana Jones line.

The tale this time revolves a round a large amount of land in El Dorado that Vesper owns, land that is wanted by an unscrupulous developer to build a new canal through the country, along the lines of the Panama Canal. To do that, he would have to destroy the lives of a native tribe that has already been decimated, and when Holly investigates, she soon comes down on the side of the natives and their charismatic young leader. There’s lots of thrills, from kidnapping by steam locomotive to battles with the men of the developer to desperate escape attempts through jungles and down rivers. There’s an evil villain behind the development scheme that has it in for Holly (apparently returning from her first book), and finally, there’s a volcano that might just be the native tribe’s salvation…or not, depending on how Holly’s plans work out.

Good fun, fairly lightweight. Alexander never lets Holly get in trouble too deep that we fear she won’t get out of it, and she seems to lead a charmed life full of lucky coincidences. Still, the characters are appealing and fun to read about.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: THE MAD GOD’S AMULET by Michael Moorcock

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Image © Michael Moorcock. (Don’t know who did this cover art)

The second book in Moorcock’s “Hawkmoon” series confirms it as sword and sorcery, as well as a medieval war story. Hawkmoon triumphed over the vast armies of the Dark Empire of Granbretan in the first book, “The Jewel in the Skull,” but only momentarily. In this one he and his new friend the beast-man Ohladan are trying to get back to the beseiged land of Kamarg where his beloved Yisselda and her father, the country’s leader Count Brass are hopefully still holding off the forces of Granbretan against impossible odds. On their episodic journey they encounter helpful ghosts, berzerker pirates and more odd dangers before tackling the Mad God, who wears a magic amulet that Hawkmoon has been told will help his cause. Hawkmoon is at first reluctant to take on this side quest until he learns that Yisselda is a captive of the Mad God in his northern enclave. The mysterious Warrior in Jet and Gold arrives to give help and advice, though Hawkmoon is reluctant to trust him. A former enemy, French fighter d’Averc also becomes a companion for a while after Hawkmoon disgraces him in the eyes of Granbretan, another character hard for Hawkmoon to trust. In all, the hero is surrounded by enemies and finds his road a tricky one.

This book has fewer surprises than the first, as it must convey the main characters to a known conclusion, the return to Kamarg for the final battle with Granbretan. The end promises a new setting and situation in the third book, which I’ll read soon. In general this series is less thoughtful than the previous Moorcock trilogy I read about Von Bek, but still enjoyable reading.

Recommended