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Book Review: Elric: The Sleeping Sorceress (Chronicles Of The Last Emperor Of Melniboné: Volume 3) by Michael Moorcock

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In works of fiction, especially fantasy and romance novels, the old maxim "nice guys finish last" is usually reworked to "nice guys just aren't as interesting". While it's true that the really diabolical characters are fun to read about, they're usually too one-dimensional to become an enduring character. No, since the early days of storytelling, the characters that have made reader's hearts beat a little faster have been those bearing the scars of a tragic past.

Preferably he or she should exude the type of sadness that only comes from being the cause of one's own misery. They should never sit and think but always brood, lurking in a shadowy part of the room where the occasional flicker of light from a nearby candle or fire can throw their face into momentary, stark relief or give a glimpse of eyes that send shivers down spines. Ideally they are loners who eschew the company of others on the grounds that being cursed as they are, all who they dare to love, or even have a casual drink with, will die in their arms.

It was the 19th century Gothic novel where these characters pushed their masses of dark hair, and smoldering good looks into the forefront – Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights fame being the Platonic ideal – and they have been brooding their way into the hearts of millions ever since. Unfortunately the line between archetype and cliché is a thin one, and an endless supply of tall, dark, and morose characters can start to wear on you no matter how attractively they are packaged. So when Michael Moorcock first introduced the character of Elric, the brooding, sickly, and cursed albino scion of Emperors from the lost kingdom of Melniboné, novelty alone made him interesting. Bone white skin, long flowing white hair, and pink eyes may not sound immediately romantic, but make him tall and thin and clad entirely in black and have his sickly body sustained by the souls his sword, Stormbringer, steals as it slays, and that puts an entirely new complexion, so to speak, on the matter.

Elric Of Melnibone.jpgSince his first appearance in the 1960s Elric has been popping up in comics, graphic novels, magazines, and books. As Moorcock primarily wrote the Elric stories with the magazine market in mind, most of them were short stories or novellas. A new series, Chronicles Of The Last Emperor Of Melniboné, has gathered together not only the tales of Elric, but all of Moorcock's work that intersects with Elric and his world. In volume three of the series, Elric: The Sleeping Sorceress, two interconnected story arcs have been gathered together. The three novellas that make up the title series, The Sleeping Sorceress, are set in the mortal realms, The Young Kingdoms, with Elric in the familiar guise of a soldier of fortune. The second series originally written in 1972, Elric Of Melniboné, is a prequel that details events that took place when Elric was still Emperor and how he came to be in possession of Stormbringer, his fearsome runesword.

The three parts of The Sleeping Sorceress detail Elric's attempts to track down an evil sorcerer named Theleb K'aarna before the sorcerer tracks down Elric. Jealous of a queen's unrequited love for Elric, Theleb hopes that by destroying the albino he will win the heart of the woman who spurned him. While Elric doesn't really have a problem with dying – in fact there are days he would quite welcome what he hopes would be the lovely embrace of oblivion – he knows that Theleb K'aarna won't be satisfied with only killing Elric, but will seek further vengeance by harming those few Elric loves.

As Elric and his companion Moonglum seek out the evil one, they meet up with an unexpected ally, the beautiful Empress of the Dawn, Myshella. Although a longtime enemy of Melniboné – she serves the gods of Law while those of Melniboné served Chaos – she turns to Elric for help to free her from an enchantment she has been placed under by Theleb K'aarna. Her body has been forced into an almost eternal sleep, and although she is able to resist and appear to Elric in his thoughts for now, soon she will succumb to the curse and die.

About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.