Simon R. Green: Blue Moon Rising

Once upon a time, there was a brave and noble prince. Charged by his father, the stalwart king of a small but ancient land, the prince set off on a quest to slay a dragon. Armed and armored, riding a steed out of legend, the prince braved numerous threats before climbing to the very top of the mountain the dragon called home. The prince challenged the dragon to a fight…

And this isn’t the epic fantasy you’re thinking of.

Right from the very start, Blue Moon Rising subverts and twists the fairy tale tropes you’d expect from a tale involving princes, dragons, and heroic achievements. The hero of this tale, Prince Rupert, is practical, down-to-Earth, intelligent, and sensible. When his armor turns out to be more of a burden than an asset, he tosses it and keeps the boots, in case he needs to kick someone. When he meets goblins on the path, he befriends them and turns them into allies, rather than slaying the lowly creatures. When he meets the dragon, he stops to talk, and makes an ally out of the dragon as well. Then he, the dragon, and the dragon’s former “captive,” Princess Julia, head on home to the Forest Kingdom, where things are getting very, very bad.

The Blue Moon of myth is rising, and with it, the demons of the Darkwood are growing brave, launching attacks on the Forest. As the Long Night approaches, and the Demon Prince prepares to claim dominion over all the land, the heroes and royals of the Forest Kingdom pursue various plans aimed at survival. Rupert leads a force to recruit the long-exiled High Warlock. His older brother, Prince Harald, spins cunning plans involving traitors within the castle. Julia joins an expedition to discover the castle’s long-lost South Wing, in order to recover certain artifacts and weapons of power. If they survive treachery and heartbreak, the Darkwood and demons, they’ll still be forced to battle for their lives against overwhelming odds. What price will victory bring?

Again, Green takes all the usual elements, and twists them. A butterfly-collecting dragon. A king grown old and weary and desperate. A princess who kicks ass and wields a sword. A mighty magician who’s an alcoholic recluse. It’s an epic story, filled with all-too-human characters. Complex and flawed, you can relate to Rupert’s loneliness, Julia’s stubbornness, Harald’s ambition, King John’s exhaustion. You can understand what makes the heroes and villains of this piece tick, as some sacrifice everything for the greater good, and others sacrifice everything for their own ambition.
You can feel that instant spark of connection between Rupert and Julia, and relate to the way they bond through all manner of trials.

I’ve often felt that Green was actually at the top of his game when he wrote this book, for all that it came at the very start of his career. While rough around the edges, his characters and plot feel fresh and new, unlike anything that was out there at the time. Grim, gritty, grounded, this book displays a stunning blend of action, bleak humor, and dark elements. You’ll find the prototypes for many of Green’s signature elements present here, as he plays around with themes of humanity, faith, honor, duty, love, and heroism. His book is full of insane, awesome, wonderfully quirky ideas, from a castle bigger on the inside than the outside (not a TARDIS), to the evocatively-named Infernal Devices, to the demon-infested Darkwood. There’s over-the-top action scenes, populated by uber-competent characters and unsurpassed warriors. It’s everything we’ve come to expect from Simon R. Green, before we got used to it.

I’ve been a fan of Green’s ever since this book came out. It’s always been my absolute favorite, and it’s easy to see why, when I go back to reread it. His characters have heart and soul, and the whole story, as mad and epic and wild and weird and wonderful as it is, somehow feels intimate and personal for it. This book has an unexpected depth that doesn’t always come through in some of his other works. I think when Green created Rupert and Julia (who later became Hawk and Fisher), he realized he’d created pure gold, and he’s been striving for that level of perfection ever since.

One of the first and and quite possibly the best of Green’s fantasies, this is a book I wholeheartedly recommend to fantasy lovers. Some twenty years after its first release, it remains relevant, exciting, and worth picking up.

(Roc, 1991)

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