Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Bane of the Black Sword by Michael Moorcock

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


Warning: possible spoilers in this review.

Like The Sailor on the Seas of Fate, The Weird of the White Wolf and The Vanishing Tower, Bane is divided into a series of connected stories -- this time, a quadrilogy, not a trilogy.

The first tale, "The Stealer of Souls," takes place three years after the events of The Vanishing Tower; it has been five years since Elric led his fellow Imrryrians as their emperor.

"Stealer" begins in Bakshaan, a city "rich enough to make all other cities in the North East seem poor." Four merchants hire Elric to kill a rival merchant (Nikorn of Ilmar), whose dirty tactics have outraged them -- it seems that Nikorn has employed a private army, as well as Theleb K'aarna, a treacherous wizard, to do his bidding.

K'aarna, as Elric-familiar readers know, is one of Elric's most elusive and bitterest enemies, since his first appearance in Weird.

Elric, with help from his fellow Melnibéans (led by Dyvim Tvar) and Moonglum (Elric's companion since Weird), battle the slippery, treacherous K'aarna by attacking Nikorn's castle. Also aiding the ex-emperor are "Misha and Graoll, [elemental] Kings of the Wind," also called "Wind Giants," who deal with K'aarna's elemental, "Kakatal, the Fire Lord."

Queen Yishana (another character sprung from Weird) further livens up this story.

"Kings in Darkness," the second tale, begins in the Forest of Troo, a dark and deadly forest. Elric and Moonglum agree to escort Zarozinia Voashoon, a rich "daughter of the Senior Senator of Karlaak," through this forest.

The threesome find themselves at odds with the forest-familiar Orgs, a crude people led by the  especially-imperious King Gutheran. Thrown into this unpleasant mix are the Doomed Folk, the ghoulish undead citizens who live beneath the "looming Burial Hill," near Gutheran's citadel.

"The Flamebringers" takes place three months after the happenings of "Kings". Elric and Zarozinia (now Elric's wife) are living in her home city of Karlaak, a trading city ("not a warrior's fortress"). The physically weak ex-emperor is content and strong, his soul-thirsty black sword replaced with natural healing drugs he got from the forest of Troo.

Elric and Zarozinia's peace is broken when Moonglum, disheveled from his desperate ride across the nearby Weeping Wastes, bursts into their castle to inform them that Kaarlak is under threat. The source of this threat is the cruel barbarian Terarn Gashtek (a.k.a. "the Flame Bringer") whose massive, brutal army is augmented by the sorcerous magick of a kidnapped wizard (Drinij Bara), who has been prevented from using his knowledge against Gashtek and his men.

Because of this, Elric is forced to wield Stormbringer anew, to confront Gashtek. Dyvim Slorn, a Melnibéan and Dragon Master like his dead father (Dyvim Tvar), commits himself and his dragon-riding army to help the ex-regent and Moonglum (whose homeland has been ravaged by Gashtek, two years prior).

"To Rescue Tanelorn. . ." revolves around Rackhir the Red Archer (from Elric of Melniboné and The Vanishing Tower) and his further adventures, sans Elric.

Like the other books in this series, Bane is an intense, lean-prosed and hard-to-put down read -- one worth owning.

Followed by Stormbringer.

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