Michael Moorcock, The Mad God's Amulet (Tor Books, 2010)
The Mad God's Amulet continues the adventures of Dorian Hawkmoon, my favorite of the avatars of Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion, as he continues his struggle against the Empire of Granbretan.
Hawkmoon has saved the city of Hamadan from conquest by Granbretan; finished off, it seems, his arch-enemy Baron Meliadus; and refused the offer of Hamadan's queen to share her throne, wanting only to return to his adopted home, the beleaguered Kamarg, and his beloved Yisselda. However, he and his trusty companion Oladahn soon find themselves lost in the Syranian desert and, about to perish of thirst, they stumble on the deserted city of Soryandum -- which is not as deserted as it seems.
After saving yet another city from the armies of Granbretan, Hawkmoon and Oladahn continue on their journey and take ship for Europe, only to run afoul of the minions of the Mad God -- but not before they manage to rescue the perfidious Huillem D'Averc, who has now joined Granbretan. They do make it to shore, where they encounter the Warrior in Jet and Gold, who confirms what Hawkmoon had feared: Kamarg is under siege, Count Brass has been wounded, and Yisselda has been captured and taken to the Mad God's fortress.
It occurred to me about halfway through this novel that Moorcock was writing what I can only call "classic" pulp fiction. Yes, the characterizations are somewhat rudimentary, motivations are transparent, and Moorcock has no trouble with pulling rabbits out of hats and dei out of machinae, but it's all fun to watch.
To be perfectly accurate, we do see more of Hawkmoon's character, enough to realize that he's stubborn as all get out and sometimes not too quick on the uptake. In his defense, it would help if people would just explain what they're up to once in a while. Oladahn, of course, is the trusty sidekick, compliant and resourceful, true to archetype. And that's one thing to remember: Moorcock is building archetypes here, all aspects of his Eternal Champion (and the Companion) who will appear as Prince Corum, Erekosë, Jerry Cornelius, von Bek, and a number of others. The key, fitting in with Moorcock's construction of a universe based on the Balance between Chaos and Law, is that they all serve the Runestaff, that semi-mythical force that doesn't seem to have an agenda so much as it enforces the dictates of the latest throw of the dice that determines the course of history. Hawkmoon knows of the Runestaff, of course, he's just not sure he wants to be involved -- he has his own agenda, and it doesn't include saving the Universe just this minute.
It's the second volume of a trilogy, but far from suffering from "middle book" syndrome, it's an engaging adventure on its own. It's a slight book, this edition coming in at just over 200 pages. It's a fun read for an evening or two, though.
Tor Books, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates, is online here.