And Then I Read: THE JEWEL IN THE SKULL by Michael Moorcock

Jewel in the Skull

Image © Michael Moorcock.

Michael Moorcock is a legendary fantasy and science fiction author with dozens of interconnected novels to his credit. I’ve tried a few over the years, liking some, not others, but never diving fully into his work. Last year, at the urging of my friend artist J.H. Williams III I read three connected novels about Von Bek, one of many characters that are aspects of his Eternal Champion, beginning with “The War Hound and the World’s Pain.”  I liked them a lot. Recently I decided I was ready for more Moorcock, and asked J.H. what I should read next. He recommended the novels about Hawkmoon, beginning with this one.

The first half of the book focuses on a small swampy country on the Mediterranean ruled by Count Brass, an old campaigner in many wars, and clearly a strong survivor. The world he lives in is an alternate version of our medieval period, and while many parts of Europe are mentioned, the names have alternate spellings, and the history is quite different. This world is being gradually conquered by Granbretan, an empire centered in London (or Londra in the story), while the armies of Europe are trying and failing to hold them back. Karmarg, Count Brass’s territory, has stayed out of the fight, but when Baron Meliadus, a powerful warlord from Londra arrives to negotiate with Brass and then attempts to abduct his daughter, the neutrality of Kamarg is over.

Meanwhile, back in Londra we find Hawkmoon, former Duke of Köln (Cologne), being held prisoner by the wizards and rulers of Granbretan. They implant a soul-sucking jewel in his skull that will eat his brain if he turns traitor, then send Hawkmoon on a mission to recruit Count Brass as an ally. This does not go as they hoped, and soon Brass and Hawkmoon have joined forces.

The story is well told, and the characters are interesting in this novel. It’s more of a war story than a philosophical one as the Von Bek novels were, but I certainly like it well enough to read more.

Recommended.

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