Weirdly this was probably the most enjoyable, yet simultaneously worst written, Elric book so far. I say worst written because I found myself more interested in the actual plot of THE WEIRD OF THE WHITE WOLF than I was in the previous two books in the series, which were interesting cos of their metaphysical ruminations more than they had a compelling storyline. There’s still plenty of brooding, angsty philosophy here for sure, but the sword and sorcery adventure element felt more at the forefront here. So that was fun, but it also gave it the feel of a more traditional adventure story and less an introspective character study, and thus makes me feel more inclined to judge and criticise it as such.
The book begins with Elric determined to seek vengeance against his cousin Yrykoon, who has usurped the throne of Melniboné in Elric’s absence. I mean, howay man Elric, I don’t know what you’re surprised about, the bloke literally tried to kill you and take the throne for himself before you willingly handed him the role of regent and swanned off to the Young Kingdoms. So I feel like this was entirely predictable but, nevertheless, Elric must have his vengeance and so gathers a fleet and sets sail to kill Yrykoon. But alas! Tragedy befalls him there and Elric is forever changed. Up to this point Elric’s had a bit of a rocky relationship with his sentient, soul-devouring sword Stormbringer, but now we see him fully embrace its darkness with the incredibly ominous statement that “We must be bound to one another then. Bound by hell-forged chains and fate-haunted circumstance. Well then, let it be thus so, and men will have cause to tremble and flee when they hear the names of Elric of Melniboné and Stormbringer, his sword. We are two of a kind, produced by an age which has deserted us. Let us give this age cause to hate us”. I mean Jesus Christ Elric, I trembled in my seat at those words, they don’t forebode anything good that’s for sure. I liked this section of the book, it made me believe that Elric actually has a reason to be such a brooding, angsty emo now instead of just a king born with a silver spoon stuck up his arse with nothing better to do than philosophise about what it means to be.
In part two we find Elric wallowing in his misery a year later, where a woman called Shaarilla finds him deep in his cups in some podunk tavern in the arse end of nowhere. She tells him of a powerful grimoire she’s desperate to retrieve, the Dead Gods’ Book, but needs Elric’s help to get it. And so they set off across the Silent Land to find it, encountering all manner of creepy stuff along the way – giant swamp-dwelling snake demons and purple lizard sorcerer guardians to name but two. This section was a lot of fun, but also the section where I became aware of how a big element of these books is that they’re just pulpy trash really aren’t they. And I say that in the fondest way possible, but the writing is pretty poor at times. For one thing, Elric and Shaarilla encounter a traveller named Moonglum on their journey, who they rescue from a pack of evil bird-dog creatures. Now, presumably Moonglum was going somewhere, had a reason for being there in the first place and has his own life and goals outside of Elric’s quest. But nope, apparently after this he’s just inexplicably bound up with Elric and decides he’s invested enough to cave dive into another dimension to retrieve some book he’s never heard of haha. I mean, you do you Moonglum, but I’m pretty sure I’d have just said thanks and been on my way. This part also has one of the funniest lines I’ve ever read in any fantasy book in my life. Before they chance across Moonglum, Elric and Shaarilla ride across the Silent Land not talking all that much, Elric being in one of his surly, contemplative moods, and we’re told that “They spoke little in the day and so saved their breath for the wild love-play of the night”. Hahahaha WHAT??? Love-play? I’m not joking, I lost it. I had tears in my eyes. It’s obviously not meant to be funny but it just felt so emblematic of the sword and sorcery fantasy of this era. There’s a fair bit of this stupid shit, like women offering themselves as rewards for completing some quest or other and Shaarilla telling Elric that, don’t be silly, the Dead Gods’ Book could never be wielded by a woman. So there is that, but it’s still very readable and you can obviously recognise that it’s stupid and still enjoy the story; it kind of had the same vibe as Star Trek: TOS when Captain Kirk has his girlfriend of the week, who he usually ends up having to rescue cos they’re the damsel in distress. Different people have different levels of tolerance for this kind of thing, so just be aware that if it’s something that grinds your gears then you might be a tad pissed.
We start hearing a lot more about the ever-raging battle of Law versus Chaos in this book too, and it’s Elric’s existential crisis over the purpose of life that drives his search for the Dead Gods’ Book and it comes to the fore in act three of the book, where a mysterious and sinister citadel appears in the nation of Jharkor, from which visiting soldiers and villagers have not returned. Elric is entreated by the queen to use his innate knowledge and mastery of sorcery to investigate the place. No spoilers, but there’s some bonkers stuff going on in there. Space and time and light and all the forces of the universe and the gods are going bananas and Elric for sure nearly loses his sanity in the place. We start getting some more hints about what the Lords of Chaos have planned for Elric too, as a soldier in their war against Law and there’s all kinds of crazy talk about entropy and the balance of forces in the universe and I get the sense things are about to go really tits up in the next book and Elric and Stormbringer may just be called forth to action to drink up some more tasty, tasty souls.
So yeah, I enjoyed this book a lot, it’s very fast-paced and very readable, though undeniably trashy as anything. It felt much less complex than the previous two, where I felt drawn to some undefinable character quirk of Elric. A lot of this felt much more like a 14 year old teenager who’s smoked too much herb and wants to make it known to anyone who’ll listen that he has, in fact, read the entire collected works of Albert Camus, Carl Sagan and J.R.R. Tolkien while on a particularly bad acid trip. Overall verdict when compared to the series so far: much more fun, much less interesting.
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