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Count Brass by Michael Moorcock (Millennium, £6.99, 401 pages, paperback. Published 21 September 1998.)

It's a sign of the times that I can come to Michael Moorcock's Count Brass, the fourteenth volume in the collected cover scan of Count Brassedition of his Tale of the Eternal Champion, and wonder at the concise nature of his storytelling. In this volume of 401 pages there are the three original books making up the second saga of Dorian Hawkmoon, first published between 1973 and 1975 (when I read them as soon as they hit the bookshops). Each story is a model of precise writing, skilful storytelling and startling imagery.

This book is a sequel to the earlier Hawkmoon (volume 3 in the series), and is best read as such, since the story follows on directly from that tale. At the beginning, Dorian Hawkmoon and his wife Yisselda are the heroic survivors of the battle against the Evil Empire of Granbretan. They rule the Kamarg, rebuilding that shattered country after the events of the great war. But Hawkmoon's peace is disrupted when the people of the Kamarg begin to turn against him, seemingly because of the wailings of the ghost of Count Brass (Yisselda's father), that Hawkmoon is a traitor. Hawkmoon goes to confront the ghost in the marshes, and finds himself involved in an adventure that spans the multiverse, acting in concert with other incarnations of the Eternal Champion to influence the future existence of the whole multiverse as the war between Law and Chaos reaches its zenith.

With such enormous imaginings, one could easily expect a vast landslide of language would be needed to tell the story. But unlike his modern counterparts, Moorcock doesn't need acres of verbosity to tell his tales. He gets down to the nub of the story, hustles it along through the twists and turns of his plot, then gives it a climax and rounds everything off, quickly, neatly and with style. This volume, along with many others in the collected edition of Moorcock's early work, proves that merely writing at length doesn't give an author any great weight. What Moorcock has that many modern fantasy 'big names' lack is a storytelling talent that allows him to strip a tale down to its essentials, and just write about those key areas that make the story live and breathe for the reader. It is a superb gift, and one which more writers should aspire to emulate.

Review by John D Owen.

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© John D Owen 5 December 1998