City in Autumn Stars: Novel Review

In my review of The Warhound and the World’s Pain, I lamented that the book felt too short, and that the sexual assault sequence served no purpose. I should have noticed the finger curl on the monkey’s paw.

The City of Autumn Stars moves the story-line up to Ulrich Von Bek’s grandson, Manfred. Manfred fought in the American Revolution, and had come to France to help the French Revolution, only to become disgusted with the September Massacres, and decided, “Fuck this, I’m going home” – except, on the way home, Manfred gets roped into the family business. No, not soldiering. The other one.

By all rights, this should work for me. I love swashbucklers, and grew up watching the adaptations of the Scarlet Pimpernel stories starring Richard E. Grant. And then the book puts its worst foot forward, by opening on the September Massacres, and the death of the Princess de Lamballe in particular. Moorcock elected to use the most lurid of the contemporary accounts of Lamballe’s death, which would hit the buttons for almost every possible trigger warning short of those that involve harm to minors and animals.

And then, as Manfred flees Paris, the book just slows down. We get some swashbuckling interludes, but Manfred doesn’t get to meet Lucifer until almost halfway through the book, and likewise with getting into the Mittenmarch. After that, Moorcock falls back on one of his old habits – self plagiarism.

In the first Jerry Cornelius novel, The Final Programme, Moorcock cribs heavily from The Dreaming City, in some cases lifting whole passages from the earlier book, with character names changed. It worked for me then, partly because the content was so diffferent – Moorcock lifted the opening of Dreaming City, and some of the end of that story – but it put those elements in the book’s opening, so there’s room to go in different directions.

By contrast, The City of Autumn Stars takes the Siege of Tanelorn and plops that into the book’s climax. Yes, the setting and characters are tweaked, but once I realized what was happening, my emotional response was less joy at recognizing the reference and a desire to tell where the story was going, and more arrogance at moorcock grabbing material from older works to pad page count and fill out an ending.

Between dragging its feet on the way to the fireworks factory, and getting there and discovering it’s a redress of an earlier fireworks factory, I think I’m done with Moorcock for a while.

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