Oh. Oh, my! I’ve been a Moorcock fan for a long, long time and once again, the master did not disappoint with The Whispering Swarm! Having read the various reviews on this book, I can only say as a fan, I know what he’s doing here (and it’s not what you think! :)).
The synopsis (from the actual book cover because a text version seems hard to come by online):
(Yes, this is from the Hardcover on my shelf. Yes, Moorcock is one of my autobuy-in-hardcover authors! :))
My thoughts: The mixture of fantasy and quasi-biography Michael Moorcock employs in The Whispering Swarm was interesting, and any longtime fan will recognize the glimpses into Moorcock’s life, but I especially enjoyed it, not only for the raucous adventure of the battle to save Charles (That is, yes, King Charles I in the time of his troubles with Oliver Cromwell, circa 1649), but especially for all the little easter eggs hidden in the text–that begin right off the bat.
Okay, so yes, a lot of this book is the life of a young man named “Michael Moorcock”, a struggling and budding writer in the ’60s. And yes, most of it is a direct autobiography of the real Moorcock. I must say I knew a large majority of his story, just from being a fan over many long years and reading anything I could get my hands on about him. In that way, I can understand many of the reviews that call the book boring. Because I’m not a fan of that era, I agree. But… It’s the stuff around that “autobiography” (some of which I’m not sure is accurate) that I found so interesting. In that part of the story, the young “Michael” meets a friar who invites him into a sanctuary at the heart of London…only “Michael” seems to be the only one who knows the place exists. There, the friars show him a treasure of an enchanted “Fish chalice”. To put it succinctly, they guard the holy grail. Now, having read many others of Moorcock’s books, the Holy Grail and its keepers is a theme that runs throughout most of his books (particularly his Von Bek series) so I wasn’t shocked to see it in Alcsacia, in fact, that was the first squee moment for me when it made its appearance.
“Michael” spends a lot of time in the Alsacia with its monks, and particular with a pretty young woman with whom he (yes) has an affair (and who, he thinks, he might have created (or did he just write stories about a character like her–**Spoiler Alert**. He even joins King Charles’ army, at the behest of his new friends. But what if this is all in his head? Is he going insane?
As a writer, I get this, so to me, it wasn’t as offensive as it seems to be to other readers. Do I think he was screwing around on “Helena”? No. Does it matter to the story? In my opinion, no–except that it gives “Michael” this conflict: Go home and be a quiet father and husband? Or help the Prince in a way that will benefit all levels of the multiverse?
I won’t spoil the book by giving things away, but let me just say if you read back over his other books (particularly The Dancers at the End of Time series, the Second Ether, and the Von Beck stories) you’ll see the Easter eggs Moorcock drops here and there better. Keep in mind, the author is a character in this story, not truly himself, so it is a biography, but it’s not. He’s a character in his own mulitverse and revisioning his own history. (I came to these conclusions via papers I found in my grandmother’s attic ;))
There was one tiny bit toward the end that confused me, and I hope it’s addressed in the next installment, but all in all I loved The Whispering Swarm, and thought it a clever and fantastic book. I can’t wait for the second installment! Do check it (or any of his books) out. You can find it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other bookstores.
**I haven’t been able to confirm that Moorcock wrote a series called “Meg Midnight” so I say she’s amalgamation of other heroine’s in his vast oeuvre.) But I do have a thought on where she lands in his Multiverse cast of characters–from the moment she stepped onto the stage, actually I suspected she was someone other than the “mistress” she’s painted as). Also, I don’t know why Amazon has it listed under fairy tales. I wouldn’t classify it as such. But I would agree with its historical fantasy label.