Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Vanishing Tower by Michael Moorcock

(1970: fourth book in the Elric series. An alternate version of this novel, titled The Sleeping Sorceress, was published by Lancer Books in 1972, "without reference to the author.")


Warning: possible spoilers in this review.

Elric's grim pursuit of the Pan Tangian sorcerer Theleb K'aarna, begun in The Weird of the White Wolf (specifically the tale "The Singing Citadel"), continues. Along for the ex-emperor's dark ride is Moonglum, a devil-dog killing warrior, whom Elric also met in Weird ("While the Gods Laugh").

Like The Sailor on the Seas of Fate and Weird, Vanishing is divided into a trilogy of connected stories.

In the first of these stories, "The Torment of the Last Lord," Elric and Moonglum encounter the seductive Myshella, also known as the "Dark Lady of Kaneloon," who has been imprisoned in castle-bound sleep by K'aarna. If Elric and Moonglum can defeat the Pan Tangian sorcerer and his ally, Prince Umbda (the Chaos-serving "Lord of the Kelmain Hosts") and Umbda's monstrous army, Elric might not only get his revenge on K'aarna, but receive further peace from Myshella, who resembles the kinslayer's dead beloved, Cymoril (from Elric of Melniboné and Sailor).

"To Snare the Pale Prince," the second story, pits the elusive K'aarna and Urish the Seven-fingered (greedy king of Nadoskar, whom Elric has supposedly wronged) against Elric, Moonglum and Rackhir the Red Archer, when K'aarna and Urish send Urish's hellish soldiers to attack Rachkhir's supply caravan, en route to "tranquil Tanelorn".

(Rackhir originally appeared in Elric of Melniboné -- he was with the albino ex-monarch when Elric became bonded with his black demonic sword, Stormbringer. Once a Warrior Priest in the Eastlands and a servant of Chaos, Rackhir now serves Chaos' antithesis divinities, under the aegis of Law.)

The third story, "Three Heroes with a Single Aim," takes place a month after the events of "Snare".

Elric leaves his companions (Moonglum and Rackhir) in Tanelorn to commit suicide in the Sighing Desert. While he is there, delirious, Myshella -- rescued by Elric and Moonglum in "Torment" -- appears to him and tells him that the Lawful city of Tanelorn is still under threat from K'aarna and his most recent allies, an assortment of Chaos gods. Elric goes to end that threat and, after an interrupted battle with K'aarna, is accidentally transported into a strange, alternate world.

In this alien world, Elric meets Prince Corum, an anti-Chaos hero who "must banish the domnation of Chaos from the Fifteen Planes of Earth," otherwise known as the multiverse. He and Elric, in order to fulfill their convergent quests, work with another warrior, the amnesiac Erekosë, to do so.

Voilodion Ghagnasdiak is the main villain in this piece. Ghagnasdiak, an evil "dwarf clad in puffed multicolored silks, furs and satins," lives in the Vanishing Tower, which randomly appears and disappears in different realms every few hours.

Within these brief hours, Corum, Elric and Erekosë must defeat Ghagnasdiak's treacherous magick and rescue Corum's kidnapped companion, Jhary-a-Conel, before resuming their separate quests.

The writing in these tales is, once again, action-intensive, cut-to-it-lean, fantastic in its imagery and supernatural beings, and reader-hooking. What makes this Vanishing stand out from the other excellent books in this series is that it introduces the idea of alternate selves and worlds (the Fifteen Planes of Earth), an expansion that promises to take Elric beyond his soul-harrowing goal of absolution -- whether it be death or something less grim.

Followed by The Bane of the Black Sword.

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