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The Vengeance of Rome: The Fourth Volume of the Colonel Pyat Quartet Paperback – August 1, 2013
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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"The Vengeance of Rome comes along to remind us of what we have been missing: the dynamism of a nineteenth-century master operating with all of the darts and shuffles of our electronic, amnesiac, fast-twitch culture." —Iain Sinclair, The Spectator
“Not for Moorcock the painful, infrequent excretion of dry little novels like so many rabbit pellets; his is the grand, messy flux itself, in all its heroic vulgarity, its unquenchable optimism, its enthusiasm for the inexhaustible variousness of things. Posterity will certainly give him that due place in the English literature of the late twentieth century which his more anaemic contemporaries grudge; indeed he is so prolific it will probably look as though he has written most of it anyway.” —Angela Carter, Guardian
"A wonderfully vivid evocation of Europe in its darkest hour." —Mail on Sunday
"A final, breath-stopping moment of deeply ironic self-delusion at the end of a grandiose, beautifully modulated quartet." —Scotland on Sunday
"Of Moorcock's characters . . . it is Colonel Pyat who is the richest, the deepest, the most complex, and who casts the strongest and most penetrating light on the century we erroneously believe we have left behind." —Charles Shaar Murray, Independent
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Yes, it's that rascally fellow Colonel Pyat back again, telling us the story of what he did in those fun years between the two World Wars in such a way as to make us doubt almost every single thing he tells us. Having taken us through World War One and its immediate aftermath, a tour of the US with the KKK and stops in Morocco and France along the way, we're nearly up to the point where the idea of "between the wars" no longer applies as the Second World War is getting ready to start. To that end, Pyat decides to finally do something about all those comments he's been making all along about Mussolini and Hitler and embarks on setting out to meet them, one deliberately, the other not so much.
Very deliberately, as it turns out, as Pyat has a giant man-crush on ol' Benito and there are moments when the book reads like one long love letter to Fascism written by a deranged person and thus the last person you actually want to sell Fascism to people. But just when you're ready to insist that Pyat get a room with the cheery dictator (and thus create his own fairly unique category of slash-fiction), he winds up getting sent to Germany, where he gets to hang out with a whole new cast of people whose names are generally seen together as a list of defendants in the Nuremberg trials (if they managed to survive that long) and while he's not so big on Nazism, he does quite enjoy hanging out with SA leader Ernst Rohm. And by "hanging out" I mean, "indulging in sexual relations" while also praising the leader of the Brownshirts to the high heavens as well.
By this point in the series, you pretty much know what to expect from Pyat and while he doesn't say anything as grossly shocking as he's shown he's capable of previously (amusingly the one aside that did catch my eye was a so-out-of-left-field-that-it-must-be-thrown-from-right-field-in-the-wrong-direction comment that John Wayne had a sex change) sticking Pyat amongst a group of people who are collectively responsible for more death and destruction than is comfortable to think about, and then have him more or less being all for their ideals, ups the ante quite a bit and while not surprising if you're been paying attention to the series, is still a bold move on Moorcock's part, even moreso than having him hang with the KKK in the earlier novel, especially since, as extraordinarily unpleasant as they were, the Nazis tend to make almost everyone else look like kindergarteners when it comes to racially cleansing everything in sight based on flimsy notions of purity.
To some extent having real (and very notorious) historical figures in the novel should unbalance it slightly and after three books of him claiming meetings with various obscure historical figures, having him encountering both Hitler and Mussolini (and Rohm, repeatedly) only a few chapters apart does seem to lather on another strange layer of unreality onto a suspect narrative to begin with since it seems even more likely that he's simply making it up (or convinced himself that it was true, as he does with several events in earlier books that he clearly told as lies and now seems to accept as completely true). It doesn't suck any of the power out of the book, if anything watching him revel in Mussolini's presence and claim intimate relations with Hitler only proves how delusional he potentially is.
Beyond that, it's Pyat-as-usual, with the typical mix of inventions that conveniently never seem to work due to the fault of others, out of nowhere racial swipes, the rationalizing of various untoward acts such as coveting minors and the downplaying of what can only be a rampaging cocaine habit (there must be a mountain snorted over the course of this series) . . . Moorcock mixes it up enough so it never seems repetitive (even when it is) but the clear racing toward the end of the narrative adds another level of intensity to what before had become old hat, echoing the disintegration of an entire culture, even as Pyat insists this is clearly the best place to be.
But he still makes for the perfect vehicle to view the madness that was the Nazi regime and the gradual unraveling mess that was Europe in the late 1930s before it all really went to hell, as he gets arrested and treated as Jewish despite his protests that, gosh fellows, he hates them too, and is shuttled from prison to prison and ultimately to a concentration camp (some of the novel's most intensely scathing scenes are here, oddly in the guise of a Nazi commander who starts to pick apart Pyat's haphazardly constructed persona) before finally becoming the person we first meet him as, an old man railing about crackpot things, insisting that every decent invention of the 20th century was somehow stolen from him and selling old clothes like he's doing everyone a favor.
To that end, the final scenes in the novel are the most powerful and a culmination of everything the series has been building up to, and even when you expect it the moment is just as satisfying and surprising and sad as anything Moorcock has ever written, with Pyat's insistence on illogical delusion mirroring our century's sometimes dogged insistence on rewriting history to convince ourselves that it wasn't as bad as the scars and the endless fields of corpses seem to suggest. In that fashion he functions almost as the opposite of Jerry Cornelius, who lived in an elaborately constructed fantasy (unlike his mother, who is a complete realist and even more of a survivor than anyone else in the series) that was gradually stripped away and scaled back, revealing a young man who was more than slightly sad. Here Pyat also inhabits his own fanciful construction but when faced with the borders of his own creation his response is to turn away and burrow deeper inside, insisting that it's the epitome of contentment and secure in his rightness (despite no evidence beyond what he manufactures), and that winds up being an even sadder fate. At least when it's all torn down and you're left with nothing you can recognize that and build again. But when you've surrounded yourself with thick walls of your own dreams, there will be no one around to help when the collapse finally comes and leaves you trapped inside the remains of your own wreckage.