Some wag is bound to notice the odd release dates on the DAW definitive editions of the six "classic" Elric novels and ask "what's up?" It only starts making sense when you pair the books with the events therein; Moorcock makes mention of the events in The Vanishing Tower, for example, in The Sailor on the Seas of Fate (q.v.). Those events hadn't yet taken place in Elric's time, as Elric notes in The Sailor on the Seas of Fate; however, they had already taken place in Corum's time. And so yes, it does make some semblance of sense that the definitive Vanishing Tower was released four years before the definitive Sailor on the Seas of Fate. If that sounds confusing, well, it is. Trust me when I tell you that Moorock makes the whole thing as clear as possible. And it does make sense, in the greater scheme of the story.
The Vanishing Tower is where the divergent pieces of Elric's saga are weaved into a single tale; the saga of Elric's dealings with MelnibonŽ, his homeland, related in books one and three, and the saga of his journeys through the Young Kingdoms (as MelnibonŽans call the rest of the world), related in book two, come together in book four.
Elric and his surviving countrymen are stateless wanderers, mercenaries hated and feared by those in the Young Kingdoms whom they dominated for ten thousand years. Elric is apart from the others (a rogue mercenary band led by Elric's childhood friend, Dyvim Tvar); he and his companion Moonglum are occupied by their own problems, most of the time. One of those problems is the desire if the rest of the surviving MelnibonŽans to see Elric's head on a spear. But aside from that, Elric's patron deity, Arioch, is becoming more and more loath to help Elric, his actorios ring, his last link to the ancient dynasty of MelnibonŽ, has been stolen by the king of Nadsokor, city of beggars, and Elric, unused to life as a regular wanderer, has no concept of fiduciary responsibility. (That one tends to be a minor worry, as Moonglum is quite an accomplished thief, and there are no lack of people willing to employ the most powerful sorceror on the planet as a mercenary.) All of these factors weave in and out of the fourth book in the novel, coupled with all the usual strengths and weaknesses of Moorcock's writing in this series, culminating in Elric finally getting to the tower of the title and discovering yet another piece of his fate. It is here that Moorcock throws the series' most intriguing twist into play, but to mention the nature of that twist would be quite the spoiler; you'll just have to read the series for yourself. ****
On the whole, this entire series, and this volume in particular, is good old-fashioned swords and sorcery. What sets it apart from other such ilk is the nature of the protagonist: Elric is at once cruel and compassionate, reckless and restrained, loyal and traitorous. The warring sides of his persona are instantiated by Stormbringer, his runesword. He often remarks of his hellblade that he is unsure of who is master, and who servant, as the sword is as likely to cut down friend as it is to cut down foe. This heightened sense of inner struggle bring a level of angst to Elric that sets his character apart from other series in the genre.
Regarding this particular edition, the volume is bound in collector-quality red leatherette (I am unsure if it is true leather, but I seriously doubt it) with gold print on the cover. One feel of the weight of the paper and the quality of construction had me wishing the entire series would be printed in this fashion. If you are an avid Moorcock or Elric fan, this is a must-have volume.