Elric: The Stealer of Souls
Michael Moorcock, collection published 2008
(Stories originally published between 1961-1965)
Moorcock is one of those authors that as a fantasy fan, I know I was 'supposed' to have read. Somehow I had missed him until recently, so when I saw this book on the used shelf at The Strand, I decided it was time.
Premise: This volume collects the first stories written about Moorcock's angtsy albino anti-hero: Elric, Last Prince of Melniboné. He was hugely influential for many modern fantasy writers, and a lot of darker anti-heroes have their genesis in these tales. In this book, we follow Elric through several loosely connected adventures, then the second half of the book is four novellas that fit together into a full story that expands the sweep of the character and the world.
His relationships with various women and companions are strained from the start; he's a loner who ends up surrounded by people, and then those people tend to end up dead. He's a physically weak member of an ancient race of great magical power and knowledge, who survives through symbiosis with his black sword that eats souls. This is sword and sorcery, but it's not a happy place.
The description tips into melodramatic here and there, but it's tremendously majestic at other times. It was written in the 60's, so no surprise that it gets incredibly surreal.
There is one story stuck in the middle of the book that is not about Elric, is very short and seems out of place. However, there are also copies of a lot of the cover art that went with the original printings of these stories, and that is really fun.
The second half of the book, which is the novel “Stormbringer”, is stronger than the first half, and really swept me away with the depth of the story and the contradiction at the heart of the main character. A villain cast as the hero is not a new story, but it's done really well here.
By the end of the volume, I understood why the imaginations of so many have been captured by this character. These stories inspired so much that I love, that I can't help but love them for that reason alone.
I found the end of the book tremendously affecting, in a way I haven't experienced in my reading in a long while. For that, for a tremendously intriguing world, and for the birth of the tortured sword-and-sorcery anti-hero, I give this book high marks.
5 Stars – An Amazing Book
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