The third volume of the Titus Crow series by Briam Lumley changes locales again. While the first volume was set on Earth and the second was a space-time crossing adventure, this is a story set entirely in the Dreamlands. H.P. Lovecraft's Dream Cycle is, already, his most "out there" work and its setting only becomes more so in Brian Lumley's hands.
This is certainly the most 'fantasy-esque' of his books and doesn't properly belong in the horror section of books at all. Indeed, I'd say it's as much a pastiche of Edgar Rice Burroughs as anything else. For some people this will prove intriguing but, sadly, this is my least favorite of the Titus Crow novels.
The Clock of Dreams' premise is Henri-Laurent de Marginy, the intrepid sidekick of Titus Crow, finds out his mentor has been kidnapped along with said mentor's new bride. Henri is recruited by the Elder God Kthanid to go get them back. This requires Henri to journey into the Dreamlands, specifically to the city of Ulthar, and try to get them back. It's a fairly straightforward premise and gets resolved around the halfway mark before a series of side-adventures occur which end in a confrontation with the Other God Nyarlathotep.
Unfortunately, The Clock of Dreams is a book decidedly lacking in tension. Despite the fact Henri loses the overpowered Clock of Dreams early on, there's very little actual threat from the opponents they face. The Horned Men are decidedly un-intimidating opponents compared to the Chthonians from The Burrowers Beneath. Likewise, Nyarlathotep is far from the omnipotent figure from Lovecraft's Dream Cycle. Instead, he's merely a different kind of monster and far from as powerful as the heroes' patron Elder God.
The book's treatment of the Girl Goddess Tiania isn't very pleasing either. Despite being thousands of years old and, presumably, every bit the same level of sorcerer as capable of learning in Elysia--she's easily captured not once but three times during the course of the novel. Titus Crow is also very dismissive of his lady love. This, despite the fact Titus Crow is equally ineffective against the forces they're arrayed against.
Despite this, there's still much to admire in this volume. My favorite part of the book is the story of the dreamer Elderby, who finds the town he visits in his dream taken over by the Horned Men and its people reduced to slavery. Its a haunting and evocative tale which, despite having a "happy" ending is the most traditionally Lovecraftian portion of this tale. I also liked a hilarious scene where Henri pilots the titular clock while drunk off his ass.
The guest appearance of Lovecraft's famous protagonist, Randolph Carter, does little to improve the book either. Not only does the series remove the dread curse he was suffering under but it seems to morph his character into a stand-in for John Carter of Mars. Given the two characters could not be more different, I'm wondering how this characterization choice happened. Randolph Carter possessed the power to dream entire nations into existence so the idea of him conquering new ones, even for their own good, is just surreal.
Overall, I wasn't a big fan of The Clock of Dreams. The books have shifted genre repeatedly with the first being a horror-adventure, the second being science-fiction, and the third being fantasy. The abrupt tonal shift was also troubled by the relative incompetence of the villains and the ease by which they're disposed of. Our heroes' victories are earned, occasionally, but they seem to come too easy to be really enjoyable. I didn't much care for the treatment of Tiania either. As a result, I could take or leave this novel and suggest it only for those who want to complete their Titus Crow collection.
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Also in the Titus Crow series and reviewed by the United Federation of Charles:
The Burrowers Beneath
The Transition of Titus Crow
Spawn of the Winds
In the Moons of Borea