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Elric: The Stealer of Souls (Chronicles of the Last Emperor of Melniboné, Vol. 1) Paperback – February 19, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Michael Moorcock has published more than seventy novels, and there are more than twenty million copies of his books in print worldwide. Among the major literary prizes Moorcock has received are the Guardian Fiction Prize and the Nebula Award. He and his wife divide their time between homes in London, Texas, and Spain.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

“What’s the hour?” The black-bearded man wrenched off his gilded helmet and flung it from him, careless of where it fell. He drew off his leathern gauntlets and moved closer to the roaring fire, letting the heat soak into his frozen bones.

“Midnight is long past,” growled one of the other armoured men who gathered around the blaze. “Are you still sure he’ll come?” “It’s said that he’s a man of his word, if that comforts you.”

It was a tall, pale-faced youth who spoke. His thin lips formed the words and spat them out maliciously. He grinned a wolf-grin and stared the new arrival in the eyes, mocking him.

The newcomer turned away with a shrug. “That’s so—for all your irony, Yaris. He’ll come.” He spoke as a man does when he wishes to reassure himself.

There were six men, now, around the fire. The sixth was Smiorgan—Count Smiorgan Baldhead of the Purple Towns. He was a short, stocky man of fifty years with a scarred face partially covered with a thick, black growth of hair. His morose eyes smouldered and his lumpy fingers plucked nervously at his rich-hilted longsword. His pate was hairless, giving him his name, and over his ornate, gilded armour hung a loose woolen cloak, dyed purple.

Smiorgan said thickly, “He has no love for his cousin. He has become bitter. Yyrkoon sits on the Ruby Throne in his place and has proclaimed him an outlaw and a traitor. Elric needs us if he would take his throne and his bride back. We can trust him.”

“You’re full of trust tonight, count,” Yaris smiled thinly, “a rare thing to find in these troubled times. I say this—” He paused and took a long breath, staring at his comrades, summing them up. His gaze flicked from lean-faced Dharmit of Jharkor to Fadan of Lormyr who pursed his podgy lips and looked into the fire.

“Speak up, Yaris,” petulantly urged the patrician-featured Vilmirian, Naclon. “Let’s hear what you have to say, lad, if it’s worth hearing.”

Yaris looked towards Jiku the dandy, who yawned impolitely and scratched his long nose.

“Well!” Smiorgan was impatient. “What d’you say, Yaris?”

“I say that we should start now and waste no more time waiting on Elric’s pleasure! He’s laughing at us in some tavern a hundred miles from here—or else plotting with the Dragon Princes to trap us. For years we have planned this raid. We have little time in which to strike—our fleet is too big, too noticeable. Even if Elric has not betrayed us, then spies will soon be running eastwards to warn the Dragons that there is a fleet massed against them. We stand to win a fantastic fortune—to vanquish the greatest merchant city in the world—to reap immeasurable riches—or horrible death at the hands of the Dragon Princes, if we wait overlong. Let’s bide our time no more and set sail before our prize hears of our plan and brings up reinforcements!”

“You always were too ready to mistrust a man, Yaris.” King Naclon of Vilmir spoke slowly, carefully—distastefully eyeing the taut-featured youth. “We could not reach Imrryr without Elric’s knowledge of the maze-channels which lead to its secret ports. If Elric will not join us—then our endeavour will be fruitless—hopeless. We need him. We must wait for him—or else give up our plans and return to our homelands.”

“At least I’m willing to take a risk,” yelled Yaris, anger lancing from his slanting eyes. “You’re getting old—all of you. Treasures are not won by care and forethought but by swift slaying and reckless attack.”

“Fool!” Dharmit’s voice rumbled around the fire-flooded hall. He laughed wearily. “I spoke thus in my youth—and lost a fine fleet soon after. Cunning and Elric’s knowledge will win us Imrryr—that and the mightiest fleet to sail the Dragon Sea since Melniboné’s banners fluttered over all the nations of the Earth. Here we are—the most powerful sea-lords in the world, masters, every one of us, of more than a hundred swift vessels. Our names are feared and famous—our fleets ravage the coasts of a score of lesser nations. We hold power!” He clenched his great fist and shook it in Yaris’s face. His tone became more level and he smiled viciously, glaring at the youth and choosing his words with precision.

“But all this is worthless—meaningless—without the power which Elric has. That is the power of knowledge—of dream-learned sorcery, if I must use the cursed word. His fathers knew of the maze which guards Imrryr from sea-attack. And his fathers passed that secret on to him. Imrryr, the Dreaming City, dreams in peace—and will continue to do so unless we have a guide to help us steer a course through the treacherous waterways which lead to her harbours. We need Elric—we know it, and he knows it. That’s the truth!”

“Such confidence, gentlemen, is warming to the heart.” There was irony in the heavy voice which came from the entrance to the hall. The heads of the six sea-lords jerked towards the doorway.

Yaris’s confidence fled from him as he met the eyes of Elric of Melniboné. They were old eyes in a fine featured, youthful face. Yaris shuddered, turned his back on Elric, preferring to look into the bright glare of the fire.

Elric smiled warmly as Count Smiorgan gripped his shoulder. There was a certain friendship between the two. He nodded condescendingly to the other four and walked with lithe grace towards the fire. Yaris stood aside and let him pass. Elric was tall, broad-shouldered and slim-hipped. He wore his long hair bunched and pinned at the nape of his neck and, for an obscure reason, affected the dress of a southern barbarian. He had long, knee-length boots of soft doe-leather, a breastplate of strangely wrought silver, a jerkin of chequered blue and white linen, britches of scarlet wool and a cloak of rustling green velvet. At his hip rested his runesword of black iron—the feared Stormbringer, forged by ancient and alien sorcery.

His bizarre dress was tasteless and gaudy, and did not match his sensitive face and long-fingered, almost delicate hands, yet he flaunted it since it emphasized the fact that he did not belong in any company—that he was an outsider and an outcast. But, in reality, he had little need to wear such outlandish gear—for his eyes and skin were enough to mark him.

Elric, Last Lord of Melniboné, was a pure albino who drew his power from a secret and terrible source.

Smiorgan sighed. “Well, Elric, when do we raid Imrryr?”

Elric shrugged. “As soon as you like; I care not. Give me a little time in which to do certain things.”

“Tomorrow? Shall we sail tomorrow?” Yaris said hesitantly, conscious of the strange power dormant in the man he had earlier accused of treachery.

Elric smiled, dismissing the youth’s statement. “Three days’ time,” he said, “Three—or more.”

“Three days! But Imrryr will be warned of our presence by then!” Fat, cautious Fadan spoke.

“I’ll see that your fleet’s not found,” Elric promised. “I have to go to Imrryr first—and return.”

“You won’t do the journey in three days—the fastest ship could not make it.” Smiorgan gaped.

“I’ll be in the Dreaming City in less than a day,” Elric said softly, with finality.

Smiorgan shrugged. “If you say so, I’ll believe it—but why this necessity to visit the city ahead of the raid?”

“I have my own compunctions, Count Smiorgan. But worry not—I shan’t betray you. I’ll lead the raid myself, be sure of that.” His dead-white face was lighted eerily by the fire and his red eyes smouldered. One lean hand firmly gripped the hilt of his runesword and he appeared to breathe more heavily. “Imrryr fell, in spirit, five hundred years ago—she will fall completely soon—for ever! I have a little debt to settle. This is my sole reason for aiding you. As you know I have made only a few conditions—that you raze the city to the ground and a certain man and woman are not harmed. I refer to my cousin Yyrkoon and his sister Cymoril . . .”

Yaris’s thin lips felt uncomfortably dry. Much of his blustering manner resulted from the early death of his father. The old sea-king had died—leaving the youthful Yaris as the new ruler of his lands and his fleets. Yaris was not at all certain that he was capable of commanding such a vast kingdom—and tried to appear more confident than he actually felt. Now he said: “How shall we hide the fleet, Lord Elric?”

The Melnibonéan acknowledged the question. “I’ll hide it for you,” he promised. “I go now to do this—but make sure all your men are off the ships first—will you see to it, Smiorgan?”

“Aye,” rumbled the stocky count.

He and Elric departed from the hall together, leaving five men behind; five men who sensed an air of icy doom hanging about the overheated hall.

“How could he hide such a mighty fleet when we, who know this fjord better than any, found nowhere?” Dharmit of Jharkor said bewilderedly.

None answered him.

They waited, tensed and nervous, while the fire flickered and died untended. Eventually Smiorgan returned, stamping noisily on the boarded floor. There was a haunted haze of fear surrounding him; an almost tangible aura, and he was shivering, terribly. Tremendous, racking undulations swept up his body and his breath came short.

“Well? Did Elric hide the fleet—all at once? What did he do?” Dharmit spoke impatiently, choosing not to heed Smiorgan’s ominous condition.

“He has hidden it.” That was all Smiorgan said, and his voice was thin, like that of a sick man, weak from fever.

Yaris went to the entrance and tried to stare beyond the fjord slopes where many campfires burned, tried to make out the outlines of ships’ masts and rigging, but he could see nothing.

“The night mist’s too thick,” he murmured, “I can’t tell whether our ships are anchored in the fjord or not.” Then he gasped involuntarily as a white face loomed out of the clinging fog. “Greetings, Lord Elric,” he stuttered, noting the sweat on the Melnibonéan’s strained features.

Elric staggered past him, into the hall. “Wine,” he mumbled, “I’ve done what’s needed and it’s cost me hard.”

Dharmit fetched a jug of strong Cadsandrian wine and with a shaking hand poured some into a carved wooden goblet. Wordlessly he passed the cup to Elric who quickly drained it. “Now I will sleep,” he said, stretching himself into a chair and wrapping his green cloak around him. He closed his disconcerting crimson eyes and fell into a slumber born of utter weariness.

Fadan scurried to the door, closed it and pulled the heavy iron bar down.

None of the six slept much that night and, in the morning, the door was unbarred and Elric was missing from the chair. When they went outside, the mist was so heavy that they soon lost sight of one another, though scarcely two feet separated any of them.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 498 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey (February 19, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345498623
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345498625
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #705,963 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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This is a hard volume to review. If you have already read some Elric stories, this is an enjoyable way to see the evolution of the character. The historical material that's collected here is really great, including a fanzine story from early on, some musings by Moorcock that he wrote at the time, and so on.

Unfortunately, those exact things make this a hard book to recommend to non-fans. The unfortunate fact is that the early Elric stories aren't nearly as good as the later ones, and the book only starts to come together in the second half. If you're new to Elric, it may be better to read the novels first, or maybe start with the second volume of this series. Although I've rated this book 4 stars, if you're not already a fan (or aren't interested in the background of the stories), I'd have to say 2 1/2 stars is more correct.
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More popular and well-known in England than here in the States (though by no means unknown on this side of the pond), Michael Moorcock's Elric saga is a touchstone work of fantasy that's seldom praised simply because it's become too familiar, too comfortable a houseguest in the hearts and minds of its many fans. It's not that it isn't a great work of fantasy fiction, or that it didn't have an earth-shaking effect on the genre--it's simply that those effects have been so long-hence encountered and absorbed that we've sort of forgotten the initial shock and wonder of them. Not only did it introduce the world to its mean, moody, and magnificent eponymous antihero, it's also a well-realized piece of escapist fiction: as finely-tuned and smoothly crafted as its auspicious pulpy predecessors, and overflowing with adventuresome incident, unforgettable characters, malefic mysticism, and wonders galore.

I was first introduced to Elric at a time when fantasy, for me, consisted of a very simple trinity: The Hobbit (and by extension, The Lord of the Rings); Conan the Barbarian (who I was more familiar with through his Marvel comics than through his film incarnation, who I was still not allowed to watch); and Dungeons & Dragons. Fantasy was hobbits running from goblins bearing magic rings. Fantasy was a big, strapping hero cutting a bloody swathe through the world because no one--I mean no one--could stop him. Or, fantasy was my older brother and his friends (and sometimes, me, after much whining) sitting around our dining room table eating Cheetos, drinking grape soda, pretending to be on some rad adventure in a mythical land of dragons and wizards--when in fact all we were doing was sitting at a table, staring at a map, occasionally rolling some funny dice to see if we made our saving throws or not.
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I almost gave up on this book at the very beginning. The whole first part of the book is taken up by writings about the origin of the hero and how the stories situate within the sci-fi/fantasy of the time, etc. Being completely unfamiliar with Elric, this material was of next to no use to me. I am sure devoted Elric/Moorcock fans would be happy to have such background material... but seeing as the book is a Kindle freebie, I'm thinking that they're trying to attract a newer audience. A newer audience (like myself) is likely to be turned off when they open the book on their Kindle to a wealth of introductory material with no meaning to them. It probably would have been a better idea to start the book at the first story and let the new reader try the essays and historical commentary afterwards. Thankfully, there is a nice clickable Table of Contents. So on to the stories...

Honestly, I found it hard to get engaged with the stories. I think it may be a stylistic preference for me. A lot of the narrative is "tell" instead of "show," and I prefer it the other way around. The mythology and world are interesting but could stand to be fleshed out better. I would have loved to learn more about the nations whose denizens seem to pop in and out of the story without really sticking. The plots do have a decent bit of action, but sometimes events seem a little abrupt. I had trouble sticking with the first few stories, but I found myself more engaged as the stories progressed. By the end, I was invested in finding out what would happen, and the narrative seemed to flow with more ease.

Overall, the stories are a mixed bag in regards to quality, though there is definite improvement in the Stormbringer section, which is pretty much the last half. The other material commenting on Elric is probably valuable to fans but doesn't really do much for new readers.
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Michael Moorcock's Elric is one of those fantasy cult-classics that's hovered in my peripherals for several years. And after being greatly pleased with Del Rey's recent trade-paper back editions of the The Fully Illustrated Robert E. Howard Library, their new publications of the Moorcock' s Chronicles of the Last Emperor of Melnibone seemed the perfect opportunity for a Sword & Sorcery fan, like myself, to finally read them, (especially since I'm a sucker for illustrated books too). So I started this book with very high expectations. But maybe, just a little too high.

Elric is the last prince of a dying race and his royal blood carries a genetic defect that makes him a pure albino and physically frail. He possesses, or more accurately, is possessed by, the evil soul-stealing-sword; Stormbringer, which grants him power but also, makes Elric physically dependent. As the last prince of a fallen and advanced civilization, Elric has the knowledge of generations studied in dark sorceries at his disposal. He's a brooding and vengeful character who is haunted by past, unforgivable deeds. But he is also the dark savior whose destiny is to stop total domination by the forces of chaos and maintain the universal balance. This also means the complete destruction of himself and his world.

I especially enjoy the connection between Elric's fantasy world and our real one. I also found myself intrigued almost as much by Elric's side-kick, Moonglum, as I do by Elric himself. Throughout the stories, I delightfully wonder just what makes a free-booting, adventurer like Moonglum, so faithful to a self-destructive soul like Elric. Granted, there is sometimes profit to be gained, but Elric isn't really a likeable guy and Stormbringer can be just as likely to kill friends as it does enemies.
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