Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Moondust by Thomas Burnett Swann.
In Moondust, Thomas Burnett Swann chose to slot a novel fantasy into the biblical context of the sheltering of Joshua’s spies and the fall of Jericho (Joshua, chapters 2 and 6). It features a cryptid race, telepathic enslavement, an underground kingdom, and other standard tropes of the Edgar Rice Burroughs adventure yarn. “Moondust” is the true name of the harlot Rahab among her people, who are neither Hebrews nor Jerichites.
This is the second book I have read by Swann. The other was the later Cry Silver Bells, which had many points of similarity with Moondust in addition to being set in antiquity with fantastic creatures. Both books have an orphaned teen human protagonist, and a non-human female protagonist who is the love interest of the former. Each young man has an older sister who is a whore. In Moondust, a changeling/adoption scenario allows the sister-prostitute and the nymph to be collapsed into a single character, while the somewhat more sophisticated Cry Silver Bells distinguishes the two.
I gather that Swann’s work is now pretty thoroughly out of print, but I enjoyed this strange little book, and I expect to read him opportunistically in the future.
Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Cry Silver Bells by Thomas Burnett Swann.
I don’t know how I managed to miss the work of Thomas Burnett Swann for all these decades. Cry Silver Bells is the first novel of his I’ve read, and I liked it very much. It is set in ancient Crete, with the matter-of-fact inclusion of various Beasts (Swann’s capital) of ancient myth and fable, such as Harpies, Centaurs, Tritons, and Sphinxes. The title character is a Minotaur. Narration duties alternate between a young Egyptian exile (of Achaean descent) and a Dryad, but the book as a whole is really the Dryad’s story, with the human narrator just supplying a more familiar viewpoint and priming the reader to sympathize with the Dryad Zoe.
George Barr provided the cover art and a small handful of interior illustrations for the DAW paperback, and they are all quite nice. I don’t think it was just Barr’s art, though, that made me think this book would make a wonderful animated feature, although not a Disnified juvenile one by any means. Swann is frank about the erotic motives and activities of his ancient characters. There is a significant plot twist, but enough foreshadowing that an attentive reader will be prepared for a less-than-happy ending.
Cry Silver Bells is a short book, with some interpolated poetry (sung by various characters). The prose style is direct and lucid. I wouldn’t call the book especially edifying, but it was a pleasure to read. I will certainly read more by this author, who died of cancer in his late 40s when I was under ten years old. Although Cry Silver Bells is part of a trilogy (the first of the three in narrative chronology, the last in publication order), I have already acquired a copy of the standalone novel Moondust.