I first read Elric of Melniboné in the late 1970’s and I’ve had my DAW Books edition of this series sitting on a bookshelf because I’ve been wanting to reread not just the Elric books, but the entire ‘Eternal Champion’ books again. But I’ve been really tied up with a backlog of ARC books so all I’ve been able to do is look longingly at these beautiful titles. Fortunately for me, Gallery/Saga Press, is re-releasing these titles in a new compilation and I managed to get a digital copy, giving me an excuse to reread the books.
Elric is a young, reluctant ruler of the kingdom of Melniboné. Melniboné was once an elite nation – for 100,000 years Melniboné ruled the world. But the kingdom has declined for the past 500 years. Now Elric rules, but he tends to sit and be contemplative, wondering if he should even bother. But Elric, who strikes an imposing figure in part because he’s an albino and his white skin stands out, comes to realize that there is no one else in Melniboné who would be able to step up and rule well and that the very survival of the once-great nation relies on him.
But there is one other who thinks they would be a better king. Yrkoon, Elric’s cousin, is sure he would be better than the anemic-looking albino and plots a coup with an army of insurgents. The two will meet in an epic battle that will be fought with the powerful ‘runeblades’ known as Stormbringer and Mournblade. Elric and his sword, Stormbringer, (which steals the souls of those who are killed by it) will develop a strong bond during the battle.
I have read or reread a few scifi/fantasy books from the 1960’s and 70’s and find them many of them feel dated. Elric of Melniboné, on the other hand, is as fresh and unique now as it was fifty years ago.
There’s a Shakespearean quality to Elric (something I would not have recognized when I was in my teens). His youthfulness and brooding reminds me of Hamlet, and his eventual take-charge attitude reminds me of Henry IV. And like Shakespeare’s plays, the outcomes of an individual’s actions might affect millions, but the story is centered on the individual and the choices they make.
The book moved along faster than I was expecting. We establish who Elric is, and what Melniboné is, and that Elric may be Melniboné’s last, best hope. Then we get Yrkoon wanting the throne, and then we get a chapters-long battle. And that’s pretty much it! It shouldn’t be a spoiler to say that Elric will ultimately be victorious in the battle, but his actions afterward might come as a surprise, setting Elric up as unique among these kinds of fantasy characters, as well as establishing potential storylines later on.
This book not only lived up to my memory and expectations, but exceeded them. Anyone reading fantasy today should pick up and read this classic – and getting the four book compilation will take away any guess work as to which book to read next.
I’ve seen and heard people compare the Elric books to Tolkien – in regards to the epic fantasy style – but this is as closely related to Tolkien as it is to Robert E. Howard’s Conan or Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars. All classics and worth taking the time to read.
Looking for a good book? Elric of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock is a sword & sorcery style fantasy that stands the test of time. You can only do yourself a favor by reading this.
I still have my 1976 paperback edition, but read this as part of the Elric of Melniboné Obnimbus which I received from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.
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Elric of Melniboné
author: Michael Moorcock
series: The Elric Saga #1, Elric Chronological Order #1, The Eternal Champion Sequence #5.1
publisher: DAW (1976); Saga Press (2021)
ISBN: 0879973560 (DAW), 1534445684 (Saga Press)
paperback, 160 pages//hardcover, 752 pages