The Moon King by Neil Williamson

NewCon Press , 2014, 338 p.

The Moon King cover

Disclosure. I have known the author for a considerable number of years and he has been writing short stories – and getting them published – for all that time. He is one of nature’s good guys with many strings to his bow. (Strictly that should be lots of keys on his piano.) The Moon King is his first novel.

The book is tinged with subtle touches of Scottishness and is a curious beast, a blend of Science Fiction and Fantasy – with equal facility in both aspects. There is a machine at the heart of the plot but what it controls is strange indeed. Creatures made of water stalk its pages but can be neutralised by scooping the water from them. The world in which it is set has discontinuities with our own but is recognisably Earth-like. Its characters are all too human, though.

The city of Glassholm lies on an island. Its ruler and founder, the seemingly immortal Lunane, saved his followers by somehow tethering the Moon in an orbit that holds it above the city. The Moon’s cycles of day and night are reflected in the city’s calendar – the months are divided into wax days and wane days – and influence not only the people’s moods (Full is a day of abandonment and revelry, the heady behaviour it engenders referred to as Fullishness, Dark a time of mayhem and danger) but also the rate at which decay and rot occur.

Anton Dunn wakes up the day after Full and discovers the Palace staff think he is the Lunane. Gradually he discovers that he has indeed become the face of the Lunane, his mind and body taken over as his engineering expertise is needed. For things are beginning to fall apart on Glassholm. Unprecedentedly, a murder has taken place on Full – and the tethered Moon is beginning to stray. Anton is one of three viewpoint characters, the others are Lottie Blake, an aspiring artist whose overbearing mother is the leader of a religion, and Jonathan Mortlock, former cop and now member of the Palace guard.

Glassholm is populated with well-drawn characters. Even the minor ones feel as if they have an existence beyond the page. Lottie’s Aunt Ruby is an especial delight. This aspect fell down slightly when Dunn ventured beyond the city and met with the remnants of the indigenes the Lunane usurped when he took over the island – but that was the section where fantasy intruded most and it may have been my tendency to look on that less generously which made me feel this. The Lunane’s Palace is refreshingly exotic. Though it inevitably has faint echoes of other large fictional buildings it has a distinctive topography.

Williamson has his characters occasionally employ those impeccably Scottish terms of endearment for, respectively, a woman and a younger man, hen and son. Other artfully deployed Scotticisms were muckle, wersh, skite, puss (pronounced as in bus and meaning a person’s face,) skelped, semmet – (though Williamson spells it simmet, the way it is spoken,) close (for the entrance passageway of a tenement block,) wee, “so it does” at the end of a spoken sentence (though that may be an import from Ireland,) loup, clout for cloth and cried for called or named. The fantastical nature of the story means that many readers will be unaware that he has not just invented these words – as he has others; in SF it’s almost obligatory – but, for a Scot, it’s an unusual delight to see them in such a setting.

The Moon King has the touch of an author with a vision, who knows what he is doing and has the ability both to engage the reader and to create believable characters. If the secret locked below the Lunane’s Palace is a shade too fantastical for my tastes, that doesn’t detract from the overall experience.

At the book launch at Eastercon Neil inscribed my copy, “Please enjoy this Lunacy!” I did, and it isn’t.

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