Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Weird of the White Wolf by Michael Moorcock

(hb; 1977: third book in the Elric series)


Warning: possible spoilers in this review (if you haven't read the first two Elric books).

The third 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.

In the first story, "The Dreaming City," Elric (with the aid of Count Smiorgan Baldhead, who teamed with Elric in The Sailor in the Seas of Fate, and a fleet of Purple Town ships) lay siege to Imrryr, the capital city that Elric once ruled and lived in.

When Elric left Imrryr at the end of Elric of Melniboné, he installed his cousin, Prince Yyrkoon, on the Ruby Throne as a temporary ruler of the Dragon Isle of Melniboné (on which Imrryr is located). Elric's plan was that he would learn about the hostile Young Kingdom that surrounds the Melnibéans' home for a year, then return to Imrryr to resume ruling the Dragon Isle as its emperor. Not only that, he would marry his incredibly patient fiancée, Cymoril, and make her empress.

Since that time, Yyrkoon has grown bolder and (once again) power-hungry and declared Elric a traitor and an outlaw. Hence, Elric's assault on Imrryr, to retake his throne and his bride -- unaware of the cataclysmic tragedy that will result from his actions.

In the second tale, "While the Gods Laugh," Elric travels with Shaarilla "of the Dancing Mists, wingless daughter of a dead necromancer" to seek out the Dead Gods' Book, which may undo some of the tragedy from the first story ("The Dreaming City"). In order to do so, they must pass through The Silent Lands and its Marshes of the Mist, where they must battle an out-of-its-area Mist Giant (with its wormlike, fanged and amorphous body) and, later, the beak-jawed, taloned "devil dogs of Dharzi."

Joined by a sword-capable, friendly human, Moonglum (whom they met while putting down the devil dogs), they find the gem-encrusted, "throbbing" book -- and further grim-humored tragedy.

"The Singing Citadel" --  Elric and Moonglum, after battling a Pan Tangian trireme (sailing ship), wind up in Pan Tang, "an isle of sorcerers, fully human, who sought to emulate the old power of the Melniboné." There, the sensuous and crafty Queen Yishana (of Dhakos) convinces the ex-emperor and his friend to end the ongoing disappearance of Pan Tangian citizens. At the center of these strange disappearances is a distant tower of swirling light, whose sweet song draws its victims within it.

It is bad enough that Balo, fugitive divine "Jester to the Court of Chaos" (which includes Arioch, Elric's patron demon) rules this seemingly fatal abode, but there is another seemingly-minor-in-comparison complication: Queen Yishana's jealous lover and sorcerer, Theleb K'aarna, who would see the albino kinslayer's existence ended, even if it means the death of Queen Yishana.

What sets Weird apart from the two previous Elric books is its grimness. Prior to the events of "The Dreaming City," the corpse-pale regent had hope -- now he doesn't. What he has now (besides notoriety for being a "kinslayer") is a death-wish, if he can't get back what he lost. Once again, Moorcock keeps the prose clean and cut-to-it lean, with an impressive array of surrealistic monsters and supernatural beings that Elric must, through metal, wit and mettle, defeat.

As with Elric and Sailor, this is a superior, reader-hooking novel. Own it, already.

Followed by The Vanishing Tower.

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