Michael Moorcock and Storm Constantine, Silverheart (Prometheus Books, 2005)

Silverheart, the latest addition to Michael Moorcock's tales of the multiverse, is a collaboration with Storm Constantine. I admire both authors, and was looking forward to this one. I came away from it, however, with decidedly mixed feelings.

The scenario is one of those fantastical quasi-nineteenth-century mélanges that are a Moorcock trademark. Those who remember the Dorian Hawkmoon cycle, in particular, with its portrayals of the mechanical marvels of Londres and the empire of Grand Bretagne, will have a strong sense of recognition. Karadur, the city at the center of the multiverse, sits alone in the midst of ice, ruled by the Lords of Metal, particularly the four major clans: Iron, Gold, Silver, and Copper. The Clans have long forgotten Shiltasi, Karadur's sister city beneath the earth, a realm of magic. Indeed, all mention of Shiltasi was suppressed after the wars of the alchemists: Karadur is a city of reason, rationality, and steam. Karadur's major problem, as the Lords of Metal see it, is a thief named Max Silverskin, noble by birth but a thief and lowlife by choice. Shamefully, Max is becoming a legend among the lower classes -- the only person ever to escape from the Gragonatt. What they don't know is that he had magical help. They do know that he now bears a witch mark, a silver disc that is eating its way to his heart. The Lords are also aware, if somewhat reluctantly, that their city is crumbling around them, but their answer -- sterner discipline, more order, less tolerance -- is, of course, the wrong one.

One of the delights of a collaboration such as this is that the authors' strengths meld so beautifully. Moorcock has long proven himself able to pile wonder on wonder, and Constantine is certainly no slouch in the imagination department. And both are masters of mood. The rendering of Karadur, particularly during the night of the Jewel Festival, when the Shren Diamond, the Jewel of Time that which keeps the city alive, is renewed by the light of the red moon, is evocative enough, as is the portrayal of the sylvan environment (with thorns and giant slugs) of Shiltasi. One very nice point: Silverheart is not nearly so talky as Moorcock's last trilogy, The Albino Underground. (This is not to say that it's not talky. It's just not as talky as Moorcock -- and Constantine -- can be.)

And that leads me into my reservations about this book. I'm not a reader who is extraordinarily patient with having everything explained to him by the authors. Moorcock is prone to this, and Constantine is not at all immune. This goes far beyond having a character explain the multiverse (again), which actually doesn't happen much in this book. Ordinarily it's something I'm prepared to forgive both of them because they are such good storytellers otherwise, but for some reason, in this one it stuck out badly, which is to say I noticed. I seem to have this unwritten rule in my head that says, "Don't tell me what a character is thinking. Show me what he's doing and let me figure it out."

There is also more distance in the narrative than I'm used to from either author, although neither has been one that I could call completely engaged. It was really a little difficult to care much about most of these characters. Strangely, the one I found most accessible was Cornelius Coffin, head of the Irregulars that police the city, and ostensibly one of the bad guys. He was the one who had real vulnerabilities and even some admirable qualities. Max Silverskin, Jenny and Jack Ash, and Rose Iron were all largely automatons, although they did begin to take on some life as the story progressed, particularly Rose.

I'm not panning the book because of this. It is still a wonderful, magical creation. It is, however, a case of not only magnified strengths, but also magnified weaknesses. Particularly if you know and appreciate Moorcock's work, you will most likely enjoy this one: he provided the story outline (some 45,000 words, according to him), and it has a definite Moorcock flavor to it, but fans of Constantine will not, I think, come away dissatisfied.

[Robert M. Tilendis]