Category Archives: Books

And Then I Read: HAWKMOON: THE RUNESTAFF by Michael Moorcock

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Image © Michael Moorcock.

I’ve now completed the quartet of books I’ve been reading over the last few months, all on my iPad or phone, featuring swordsmen Hawkmoon and D’Averc, warlord Count Brass, Hawkmoon’s lady love Yisselda, and on the opposing side the very evil version of the British Empire, Granbretan, its King Huon, Baron Meliadus, and Lady Flana, among many other characters.

It’s a very rigidly plot-driven story. So much so that when, in the beginning of this book, Hawkmoon tries to change the “fate” decreed for him by the ever manipulative Runestaff, he is driven back to the correct plot course by a huge storm. The Runestaff itself proves to be unimpressive, though it apparently controls everyone in the story to some degree. I’d call it a stand-in for the author himself. There’s lots of fighting, treachery, sorcery, scheming, betrayal, slaughter, and treachery, as well as a fair amount of bravery, cleverness, luck and skill on both sides. The final battle in the streets of Londra (London) is epic, but I found I wasn’t much moved by it, or by the fates of some characters I’d been following through four books. It all seemed too planned, too regulated by the dictates of the plot. Moorcock crafted a story here which kept me turning the pages, and offered many interesting characters, but after the first book most of the emotional involvement seemed to fade. Yes, it’s inventive in some ways, but too predictable in others. I was rarely surprised after the first book of the quartet.

I will probably try other Moorcock fantasy novels in the future, but I can only mildly recommend this group.

And Then I Read: A BOOK YOU CAN’T FIND ANYWHERE

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Image © estate of Arthur Ransome.

It’s the latest publication of The Arthur Ransome Society (hereafter TARS), published for subscribers recently. I expect there were some extra copies printed that will eventually be available from the TARS website, but their online sales process is currently unavailable. It’s a book of essays, which automatically makes it of little interest to most readers of this blog, I think. Normally I’d be one of them, but I love the writing of Arthur Ransome. Particularly his series of novels for children beginning with Swallows and Amazons and running to 11 more similar volumes. Those books led me to seek out other work of the author, and eventually to join TARS, whose yearly literary magazine is great reading, and who periodically publish little known works of the author such as this, not to mention having all kinds of activities for members in Britain and elsewhere.

These newspaper articles are weekly essays. Ransome had recently ended a long series of essays mainly about fishing, a personal passion, which have been collected in other books. As a favor to the publisher, he agreed to do this new column where he could write on any subject he liked, which actually turned out to be harder for him, and he gave it up after about two and a half years, but the articles he did write from 1929-31 are great reading. Some touch on politics, but the ones I liked best did not. I preferred the many articles that delved into human nature in one way or another, such as why other people’s games seem so pointless to us if we don’t follow them, how one’s profession affects the way we see the world, why travel is more often fun to plan than to experience, how we often read too fast, the joys of reading aloud, why city visitors to the country see it so differently than residents, and vice versa, the dust that once cloaked the British countryside, why those who exercise and preach about it are so annoying, the pleasure of being up early, and so many more.

I guess this review is more for myself than anyone, but if you have any interest in Arthur Ransome and his writing, I highly recommend TARS.

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.