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The Jewel in the Skull, by Michael Moorcock Book Review | SFReader.com
The Jewel in the Skull, by Michael Moorcock Genre: Fantasy Publisher: Penguin Published: 1977 Review Posted: 8/26/2007 Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 9 out of 10
The Jewel in the Skull, by Michael Moorcock
Book Review by S C Bryce
Have you read this book?
Michael Moorcock's four-part series "The History of the Runestaff" introduces Dorian Hawkmoon, the Duke of Koln, an avatar of Moorcock's reoccurring idea, the Eternal Champion (the most famous of which is Elric of Melnibone).
This first book actually begins with Count Brass, the Lord Guardian of the Kamarg. Count Brass is a renowned hero and his province, considered almost unconquerable due to geography and unique defenses (ever see flamingoes used as mounts?), is almost the only area in this Europe that is not under the totalitarian control of the Dark Empire of Granbretan.
Hawkmoon is a rebel captive of the Dark Empire. Under the insistence of Baron Meliadus, who has become determined to destroy Count Brass and the Kamarg, urges the lead scientist of the Empire to implant a Black Jewel in Hawkmoon's forehead. Hawkmoon is sent to destroy Count Brass. Should he fail, the Black Jewel will eat his brain. This first volume introduces most of the main characters for the rest of the series and for "The Chronicles of Castle Brass". Here, we meet Bowgentle (a poet, philosopher, and warrior of Castle Brass), Yisselda (Count Brass's daughter and Hawkmoon's love), as well as many of the Dark Empire's personalities such as the immortal King-Emperor Huon (a grotesque fetus-like creature living inside a fluid-filled orb).
This is a post-apocalyptic Earth in which civilization was, for the most part, destroyed during the Tragic Millennium. It is another derivative of Great Britain, which manages to be both baroque and Gothic. It is a long-lived empire collapsing under its own weight. Yet Granbretan maintains its goal to capture all of Europe and then the entire world. Its people and leaders are cruel and prone to a "congenital insanity." Their culture is strange and rigid, the most visible manifestation being innumerable clan-like or caste-like Orders. Each Order is named after a beast and all members of the Order must (at nearly every waking moment) wear a mask patterned after that beast.
Under Granbretan's Dark Empire, elements of technology are preserved and mixed with feudal culture. The result is that Hawkmoon's world has scientists rather than sorcerers. Yet given the fantastical nature of the "scientific" devices, the effect is sometimes much the same. More often, the emphasis on science rather than sorcery produces an intriguing sword and science-sorcery world. There are bird-like ornithopters, laser-like fire lances, and CT scan-like mind-reading machines. On the other hand, there is no spell-casting. There is little that is purely supernatural in Hawkmoon's world.
Hawkmoon himself is a straight-forward character. He is a soldier with no magical abilities, no allegiance to gods or divinities. He is optimistic, decisive, and practical. He spends less time debating the philosophies of a problem and more time engaged in solutions. He wants no part of the Runestaff, its servants, and its manipulations, no matter how many times he is told that it is his destiny, for his focus is on defeating the Dark Empire and protecting his loved ones at Castle Brass.
Familiar elements of the Eternal Champion mythology are here, but Moorcock's lack of emphasis on it results in a faster-paced story. After allowing the reader to settle in a bit into this bizarre world, Moorcock quickly throws Hawkmoon from one impossible situation to another. Hawkmoon, as he must, overcomes daunting odds and engineers daring escapes with the help of luck, skill, friends, and science-sorcery.
Reading this book is like traveling in a time warp to when pulp ruled. This is both good and bad. While the thrill-a-minute, condensed writing is a positive, don't look here for feminism or tight, logical cohesion. Fun though it may be, if it had been written by another author, The Jewel in the Skull most likely would not have been reprinted. For fans of adventure fiction, sword and sorcery, and pulp, this rates a 7 out 10. For other readers, don't bother
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