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Builds to an infamous but impressive climax.
on 7 May 2014
This edition of Michael Moorcock's everchanging Elric saga I am reviewing is the hardback version published by Millennium/Orion in 1993. It is part of a series of hardbacks (14 in all) which cover the majority (but not all) of the Eternal Champion's incarnations/rebirths across the multiverse. I am putting this down because of the habit on Amazon for the reviews to go walkies and appear on pages where they really shouldn't, which I find immensely irritating.
Anyway I bought my volume second-hand as I liked the idea of keeping a bunch of Elric tales in 1 hardback, it saves space which I'm sure any fantasy fan will appreciate. (Saying that this is a standard size hardcover so any potential buyer, plan accordingly.) The cover art by Robert Gould didn't hurt either, although I wish that like many other covers in the series of 14 hardbacks the cover had been done by Yoshitaka Amano. Indeed Amano's covers were what first drew me to this mega-series as a child in the nineties at my local library. Saying this I doubt I will get all 14 hardbacks as the prices are quite hefty (these are rare books) and the stories held within may be revised at any moment by the whims of Moorcock. Even the current 2013 collection by Gollancz has a Runesword of Damocles hanging over it. (And we all know how that tends to end...)
Anyway story wise these are all the later chronological Elric stories that were published until 1993. (Because this is the second and last volume of Elric stories published in this hardback form, which itself is Vol 12 of The Tale of the Eternal Champion.) So we have (in the order listed inside the book) "The Sleeping Sorceress" from 1971, "The Revenge of the Rose" from 1991, "The Stealer of Souls" novella from 1962, the "Kings in Darkness" novella from 1962, "The Caravan of Forgotten Dreams" novella from 1962 (previously known as "The Flame Bringers") and the "Stormbringer" fix-up novel from 1965 that finishes the whole saga.
Confusing? Well it doesn't hurt the book, as long as you are able to understand going in this is not one complete novel but a collection of stories written over more than 30 years - of course the tone and language is going to vary enormously. Also the Moorcock virgin must be aware that the author has a hobbyhorse he likes to ride, over a field full of bodies of the middle-class to be exact. Expect to find some subtle, and some not-so-subtle jibes and speech-making, particularly in "The Revenge of the Rose" where the Gypsy Nation is presented as a cartoon enemy with no depth for the lower class to seeth over and hate. Thankfully not all the book is like this; there are sections of "Stormbringer" which still retain their power without having to stoop to shrill polemics.
Is there someone left out there who doesn't know how the Elric saga ends? I won't say anything here, but come on, every single story with the Prince of Ruins has had a flashing neon sign saying "Don't trust the black sword!" beaming out of every page. All we need now is for Admiral Ackbar to say "It's a trap!" Ah well. The very last few pages still feel melancholic and inevitable in a way that very little fantasy ever has had the balls to be. You kind of wonder what would have happened if Moorcock had left his albino creation alone after the 1960s, or looked at other characters in the Young Kingdoms in more detail, as the 1965 novel of "Stormbringer" is literally as good as it ever got with Elric. (A good place to end this hardback volume at as well.) Perhaps pre-Elric Melnibonéan royalty would benefit from a closer look - the crazy antics of the Targaryen family in the series "A Song of Ice and Fire" suggest that people might find that intrigue interesting, plus Moorcock could wax lyrical about the evils of the British Empire and pat himself on the back. It would be win-win for author and reader.
The font in this book is well-sized, neat and readable. No spelling mistakes yet detected. There's a nice map (but Moorcock doesn't really worry about geography) and a meaty introduction of about 4 pages where Moorcock discusses the situation he was in when writing Elric, his inspirations, aspirations and his plot to "overthrow English literature as he knew it". To the barricades comrade!
Basically, if you're a Elric fan this is quite good. If you're a general fantasy fan it's recommended but take a pinch of salt for the polemical filler at the start. If you're buying blind avoid and try one of the shorter Elric paperbacks to get a taste first.
"Farewell viewer, I was a thousand times more geekish than thou...!"