Fantasy is a genre that seems to have pretty much split into two schools, the Tolkien school and that which Moorcock inhabits. The former dominates fantasy literature and has diminished the latter to such an extent that only a few authors really work in it anymore and you increasing have to reach backward for examples. This means a new Moorcock fantasy novel is always a refreshing change and this is no exception. It is a novel that only Moorcock could have written, even if you stripped out all the names of the famous characters and put another name on the cover you could still recognise it as such.
The opening chapters are very much influenced by the real world, and take place in Nazi Germany prior to the Second World War, where Ulrich Von Bek lives a provincial lifestyle in his family home. The Von Bek family and their motto "Do The Devil's Work" will be familiar to many of Moorcock's readers, as well as their connection to the Grail. This is where the Nazis come in, and how Von Bek's resistance to his Nazi cousin leads us to the grounded horror of the concentration camps.
We are only really given a short, yet brutal, glimpse into these horrors before the novel takes a swift turn into the fantastical, and an imaginative journey that few authors of fantasy are capable of. An incredible blend of elements from many different sources, mainly Moorcock's own but also with nods to Hans Christian Anderson, the long dismissed Hollow Earth theories and whispered legends originating from the Second World War. Where he shows his strength is how effortlessly he blends all the elements together to create a cohesive whole that is endlessly inventive.
Moorcock makes full use of his reliable invention, the multiverse, to carry the story forwards on many different levels. We see the return of several old favourites, a certain albino prince plays a central part, as does Oona, the Dreamthief's Daughter. The latter half of the novel shows an incredible huge conflict fought across many different planes, including our own, the outcome of which the fate of the multiverse depends. The finale is frequently breathtaking due to the sheer leaps of imagination that Moorcock takes.
Seen mainly through Von Bek's grounded eyes, this wouldn't be that bad an introduction to the vast expanses of Moorcock's multiverse, despite the appearance of certain recurring characters it is very much a self contained work that reaches closure at the end. As this is the first novel in a trilogy the lack of a cliffhanger or obvious sequel hook is very refreshing, too many books of this kind have the commercial imperative to leave you waiting for the next. A wait that can often extend into years. This leaves you eagerly awaiting the next for completely different reasons. This is a book that should be both satisfying both to those new to Moorcock, and to those veterans of the psychic wars who have long weathered the storms of the multiverse. This is truly a work that deserves the description of imaginative literature, unlike much of the work that currently carries that tag line.