Thursday, June 04, 2015

The Sailor on the Seas of Fate by Michael Moorcock

(hb; 1976: second book in the Elric series)


The second book in the Elric series is divided into three directly linked parts. First I will describe the storylines of these works, then actually review them.

The first part, "Sailing To the Future," opens with Elric fleeing the "city of Ryfel in the land of Pikarayd" where he was wrongly accused of being a "Melnibéan spy." After being rescued and hired onto a galleon of country-mixed mercenaries, he and his shipmates, utilizing wit and steel, battle the bejeweled brother-sister beast-wizards Agak-Gagak in their island temple. 

In the second part, "Sailing To the Present," Elric is no longer on the Dark Ship with its mixed-hireling swords (and its blind, wise "Captain").

Elric now travels with the amiable and battle-ready Smiorgan Baldhead, "once a sea-lord of the Purple Towns." While pillaging a coast-wrecked ship, the Count and the albino emperor uncover a half-Melnibéan, half-human woman (Vasslis of Jharkor) who is fleeing a deluded ancient Melnibéan earl, the legendary Saxif D'Aan, who believes Vasslis to be his storied "stolen" lover ("Graytesha, Princess of Fwem-Omeyo"). Included in this supernatural plot-stew is Prince Carolak, an also-legendary ghost-being, a royal whom the real Graytesha loved while she lived.

Having taken on Vasslis' protection as their cause, Baldhead and Elric engage in a (reluctant, on their part) galleon battle with D'Aan, near the red-lit, ship-crushing Crimson Gate -- a portal that can take Baldhead and Elric back to their realm-world, away from the Unmapped Kingdom.

This part ends on a semi-cliffhanger note, leading into "Sailing To the Past," where . .

. . . rescued by "Avan Astran of Old Hrolmar" -- a duke, "an adventurer -- explorer -- trader" -- Elric and Baldhead join Astran in his cross-the-Young-Kingdom quest to find R'lin K'ren A'a, the mythical jungle city from which Elric's ancestors first came. Along the way, on a river near their destination, they are attacked by the Olab, "club-wielding. . . essentially [hissing] reptilian [beings] but with feathery crests and neck wattles, though their faces were almost human. . . Their forelegs were like the arms and hands of men, but their hindlegs were incredibly long and storklike."

Once in R'lin K'ren A'a, they encounter the ten-thousand-year-old Creature Doomed to Live (who may or may not be the naked, possibly-leprous J'osui C'reln Reyr), as well as the Jade Man, a stories-tall statue who guards "the place where the High Ones [the Melnibéans] meet."

Like its source novel, Elric Melniboné, the adventures in Sailor  are word-lean, with their effectively-sketched and -built-upon characters, their surrealistic and distinctive supernatural elements and beings and their epic tone. What sets Sailor apart from Elric (besides its section-fractured tales) is that the pale emperor's travels are increasingly colored by his deal with his patron demon Arioch (whose curious links to the Jade Man deepen the backstory) and the fact that Elric is learning more about the personality of his soul-stealing sword, Stormbringer.

This is an excellent, hard-to-put down read, one worth owning. Followed by The Weird of the White Wolf.

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