The second volume in Michael Moorcock’s History of the Runestaff tetralogy. After we followed our hero Dorian Hawkmoon of Köln from the Camargue to Persia (or rather, this series’ twisted versions of those places) in The Jewel in the Skull, The Mad God’s Amulet, in a neat bit of symmetry, takes us from Persia back to the Camargue, thus making the first half of the tetralogy a closed circle.
In fact, The Mad God’s Amulet does read more like the second half of The Jewel in the Skull than a novel by itself (something that will be repeated for volume 3 and 4 of the series), so generally we get more of the same of what Moorcock served up in the earlier volume, and just as tasty a dish: Again a conventional quest adventure (this time even including a damsel in distress) is embellished and garlanded by the products of Moorcock’s fertile bizarre imagination until it is barely recognisable. I doubt there was any Fantasy author writing at the time who would have been Moorcock’s rival for the sheer audacity of his vision- what other writer would have dared to send his protagonists into battle riding scarlet flamingoes and gotten away with it? There are not many who could pull that off today, and those that might have likely all been influenced by Moorcock in one way or another. (I can’t help the impression that there is a strong influence of the History of the Runestaff in particular on Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadow of the Apt series with it’s mixture of science and magic, its ruthless evil Empire and the distortion of its personnel through masks / insect kinship.)
And like in the previous novel, it are those imaginative flourishes, those over-the-top inventions that range from the sleekly elegant to the outlandisly garish, but that always shimmer darkly with a sensuous decadence that make The Mad God’s Amulet into something special. Supposedly Moorcock churned the Eternal Champion books out at an insane rate at the time (up to one novel per day (!)) in order to finance New Worlds, the avantgarde SF magazine he was editing – and if that is true then it really is a marvel how he managed to transform his pulpy narrative into something so rich and strange. Either way, this is both fascinating and highly entertaining stuff, and I’m starting to understand again why I used to be such a huge fan of Moorcock’s work as a teenager.