by Michael Moorcock
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The Runestaff, the fourth and final book in Michael Moorcock’s History of the Runestaff series, begins immediately after the previous novel, The Sword of the Dawn. The novel ties up Moorcock’s various plots quite well, although there is a strong sense of predestination and deus ex machine in the novel dealing with Hawkmoon and the Kamarg’s victory over the evil forces of Granbretan, all of which was set up in The Jewel in the Skull.
Turning his back on the quest which had been outlined for him, to visit Dnark and find the legendary Runestaff, Hawkmoon and his companions find themselves forced to visit the ancient city, where they come into contact with the forces of Granbretan, this time led by Count Shenegar Trott and they battle with Trott to gain access to the Runestaff and its apparent guardian, a young boy named Jehamia Cohnahlias.
In Europe, Hawkmoon’s nemesis, Baron Meliadus, finds himself dealing with court intrigue and elects to stage a coup against the immortal King-Emperor Huon, replacing him with the more pliable Countess Flana. These plans are sidetracked when Meliadus learns that the scientists of Granbretan have found a way to bring Castle Brass back to earth from the demiplane on which its defenders have taken refuge, thereby setting the stage for the final battle.
Hawkmoon was written as a more mainstream character than many of Moorcock’s characters of the period, lacking the angst that belonged to Corum as the last member of his race, the confusion of John Daker as he found himself inhabiting first Erekosë and later Urlik Skarsol, or Elric with his varied issues. Hawkmoon’s biggest issue was summed up near the beginning of the series when Moorcock explained that Baron Meliadus’s oath by the Runestaff ensured the world would move in one of two directions. Not quite predestination, but it does set the reader up with some pretty definite expectations of how the series would end. The joy is reading as Hawkmoon and friends collected all the chits on their quest and eventually learning how they bring about the results of Meliadus’s oath.
The characters move towards their eventual fates, as unable to break free of the guidance of the Runestaff as Elric was unable to give up his reliance on Stormbringer, the flip side of the Cosmic Balance that figures so prominently in Moorcock’s work of the period. Moorcock is able to retain the reader’s interest by creating interesting characters and scenarios which make the reader want to find out what is going to happen next, even if there is the feeling that the ultimate outcome is know.
The Runestaffbrings everything to a satisfactory conclusion, relatively neatly tying up not only the macroconflict between Hawkmoon and his band of comrades and the evil empire of Granbretan, but also on the microlevel as Hawkmoon and his companions bring their relationships to reasonable places. Moorcock is not afraid to kill of his characters in this final volume in the series, whether heroes or villains, but none of the deaths are gratuitous.Moorcock provides a good wrap up to The History of the Runestaff in this final volume and could easily have left his characters alone. The subsequent trilogy, The Chronicles of Castle Brass provide a good, although unnecessary coda to the compete tale told in the four volumes ending with The Runestaff.
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