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Review: City in the Autumn Stars by Michael Moorcock

the-city-in-the-autumn-starsCity in the Autumn Stars


Michael Moorcock

Review copy: personal purchase, ages ago! (I got the version to the left, and the omnibus, from the defunct Walden Books, or B. Dalton, or something, if I’m not mistaken)

Synopsis (from Itunes):

The City In The Autumn Stars: Being A Continuation Of The Story Of The Von Bek Family And Its Association With Lucifer, Prince Of Darkness, And The Cure For The World’s Pain.

Disillusioned by the excesses of the French Revolution, Manfred von Bek flees to the city of Mirenburg, where a Scottish balloonist, an elusive duchess, and a fallen angel become his companions on a journey to the mystical Mittelmarch – the land between lands- in search of the Holy Grail.

In City in the Autumn Stars, Manfred von Bek escapes from revolutionary Paris, heading for home in Mirenburg, when he falls into the age-old von Bek family dilemma of serving, or not, Lucifer (those who’ve not read the series, their work even became part of the family motto: Do you the Devil’s Work)….or rather, their duty, I should say, to protect the holy grail from Satan. The problem is, those two services seem to combine more than von Bek (especially, it seems, poor Manfred) would like.

So to my analysis of City in the Autumn Stars. I found Manfred von Bek sweet, but not as dynamic as his predecessor. In fact, it’s been a while since I read Warhound and the World’s Pain, but I don’t remember Ulrich Von Bek being as easily (shall we say) led by the (er…) nose by his heroine, The Lady Sabrina.

I’m not even sure I would use the term heroine for Manfred’s Libussa, mostly because of the way Manfred follows her from Lausanne to Prague to Mirenberg, and when he finally does manage to overtake her and proclaim his love, she takes advantage, which sees Manfred bowing to her every whim. Why, he even follows her into a strange new world of Mittlemarch (also called the City in the Autumn Stars, by its inhabitants), a sort of fantastical, surreal version of the Mirenberg he left behind. Of course, he can’t escape strife so it’s not totally surprising when he finds his foe of the French revolution, Montsorbier, has entered the City in The Autumn Stars himself.

Manfred does make new friends along his journey, in the form of one St. Odhran (aeronaut and trickster!). This fellow is charming and I enjoyed his almost steampunkish ambitions and schemes (swindling various rich luminaries out of their cash to keep his airship running), he didn’t quite have the same spunk or loyal streak as a Sendenko (from Warhound) or Moonglum (Elric’s sidekick in his series). However, St. Odhran does advise Manfred that Libussa’s ambitions to find the Holy Grail might get him in serious trouble.Manfred ignores that advice in a way I don’t remember Ulrich doing and that might be because he is (or feels) younger.

Because of Manfred’s blind devotion to Libussa, I came out of the book feeling sorry for the poor boy, who seemed, to put it another way, bewitched into helping Libussa achieve her suspect (dare I dub her evil?) supernatural/alchemical ambitions. Almost to his detriment.

And for spoiler reasons, that’s all I’ll say about that plot point!

Something I missed in the novel… Where Warhound and the World’s Pain has clear nods to the Elric series, I didn’t see the same relationships here in City in the Autumn Stars. (Not that that’s a criticism, it’s just something I’d hoped for in beginning the novel.)In some cases, I felt characters split. Klosterheim shows up (who has, it seems, survived the hundred years between his encounter with Ulrich to today–what else do you expect from an agent of Lucifer?), but also so does a new character, in the form of Manfred’s French nemesis Montsorbier, who felt to me like half of Klosterheim, somehow.

However, for all my comparisons and criticism to the earlier Warhound and the World’s Pain, I did enjoy City in the Autumn Stars, and was particularly delighted with its setting during the Reign of Terror and of course, the novel’s Gothic and Steampunk touches.  If you’d like to check City in the Autumn Stars out, you can find it at AmazonItunes, and (I think?) Barnes and Noble.


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