This omnibus titled "Elric: Song of the Black Sword" includes the first three novels and three short stories, all published in order, following the life of Michael Moorcock’s most famous character, Elric VIII, 428th Emperor of Melnibone.
The novels and stories in order are:
“Elric of Melnibone”
“The Fortress of the Pearl”
“The Sailor on the Seas of Fate”
“The Dreaming City”
“While the Gods Laugh”
“The Singing Citadel”
More can be read about Elric on at Wikipedia. (Of course not everything on that site should be trusted, but it is a good source of some information.) One quote however sums up the character best:
Elric presents an excellent example of a counterstereotype, because he was written specifically as the polar opposite of Robert E. Howard’s Conan and similar fantasy heroes. Instead of a mighty-thewed barbarian warrior who fights his way from obscurity to achieve fame and power, Elric is a frail, sickly albino, a highly-educated and cultured (often downright decadent) emperor who abandons his throne. Whereas the conventional fantasy hero rescues fair maidens from evil wizards and defends his country from invaders, Elric (inadvertently) slays his true love, is himself a powerful wizard, in league with the Chaos lord Arioch, and leads a successful invasion against his homeland of Melnibone.
The funny thing is that two of the events described above both happen in “The Dreaming City”, a short story, and ends up being the best of the six stories in this collection. Elric needs drugs to keep up his strength, that is until he comes across one of the two famed black runeswords. The one that Elric takes possession of is Stormbringer. It gives him power through the souls that it steals by killing. Though Elric doesn’t want to be controlled by the sword, since it is sentient and takes action on it’s own by having a sort of bloodlust, he continues to give in since it gives him strength and helps him during his travels. Elric is continually looking for the truth in his life and to find out how he fits into the Multiverse.
Now I had already read the first book, but had a hankerin’ to read more. I decided that going back and re-reading the first book wouldn’t be a waste. And as I mentioned above, the short story “The Dreaming City” turned out to be the best. It really highlights what Elric goes through on an emotional level and his anti-heroism.
Though there were good things about all the stories, at times each had it’s moments of being too much, or being boring. The other two novels, “The Fortress of the Pearl” and “The Sailor on the Seas of Fate” each dragged at some point. I think though that the biggest reason for the things plaguing these stories are due to age. Most of this work was written in the 1970’s. What has become the norm in fantasy circles is very different when guys like Moorcock were developing it. One plus is Moorcock’s prose which helped keep my interest. He is a very good writer from that standpoint. And the character of Elric is very strongly written, as are the characters from the first novel (like Yyrkoon and Cymoril).
“The Fortress of the Pearl” is the real stand-out of all these stories for many reasons. I think it had the chances of being the strongest story of all those in this collection. Though Elric is back on his heals a bit here, it adds to the depth of his character. And the addition of other characters, especially Lady Oone the Dreamthief, make this a strong selection. However, I think the book was too long. At times the story brought you along and was so well told. And other times it seemed to be just about filling pages, given the seven planes that Elric and Oone had to travel through, just to make it a novel and not a short story. Though again, Moorcock’s writing style at least made it interesting to read.
Fantasy fans around the world know of Elric, whether they have read any of his stories or not. It is my suggestion that they read some of the stories surrounding this famed character.
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