Wednesday, 19 November 2008

‘Elric: The Stealer of Souls’ – Michael Moorcock (Del Rey)


As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it’s getting to that time of year where I catch myself looking at the ‘to be read’ pile and thinking, “How long has that been sat there? I really need to get reading...” The first book in Del Rey’s new, and definitive, ‘Elric’ collection has been sat in the pile for a long time now, far longer than it should have done in fact. What can I say? Loads of books to read and not enough time to read them all... I got there in the end though and can safely say that I wish I’d done this sooner...

As with the other ‘Elric’ collection that I reviewed back in September, ‘The Stealer of Souls’ is a collection of stories that have already been published before. In this case, we are presented with stories comprising ‘The Stealer of Souls’ and ‘Stormbringer’. There is also a very brief sojourn outside the world of the Young Kingdoms with a tale of ‘Sojan the Swordsman’ which I am sure that I have also seen elsewhere. Miscellaneous letters and essays are also included (and I’m not sure if these have been published anywhere other than the magazines they were originally written for) but the bulk of the book is already available. The message, once again, is to have a quick look at the contents before you buy...
As with ‘To Rescue Tanelorn’, ‘The Stealer of Souls’ features some rather gorgeous artwork (on the cover and inside) this time from John Picacio. It was a shame then, for me, that certain of the stories included didn’t really work as far as I was concerned...

‘The Stealer of Souls’ tells of Elric’s adventures leading up to just before the events of ‘Stormbringer’. The Dreaming City of Imrryr is sacked and burned to the ground through Elric’s desire for revenge on his cousin Yrkoon, a series of events that culminate in Elric losing everything that he holds dear and setting himself on the path to his eventual fate. ‘The Dreaming City’ (in which all this takes place) is gripping tale of futility and obsession that really sets the scene for things to come. I found it a real shame then that what was to come was ‘While the Gods Laugh’, another tale of... futility and obsession... While these tales were being published in magazines such repetition would have escaped notice but this isn’t the case when stories are collected together. To be fair though, this approach does reinforce certain aspects of Elric’s character and make his actions that bit more understandable.
‘The Stealer of Souls’ (the story from which the collection takes its name) resolves an ongoing plot arc but the thing is that it’s an arc that isn’t mentioned anywhere else in the book. While the story stands well enough on it’s own I felt that there was an air of ‘disjointedness’ that jarred things slightly but enough to be noticeable.
‘Kings in Darkness’ and ‘The Caravan of Forgotten Dreams’ serve the purpose of introducing Zarozinia (Elric’s wife) and are also useful in that they lull the reader into a false sense of security before the events of ‘Stormbringer’ kick off. Other than that though they come across as the same events replayed under different guises and while Elric’s ability to call on the Gods for aid (which is given 99.5% of the time) may help in terms of the world building it also robs the stories of their urgency. What’s the point of worrying what will happen to our hero when it’s pretty much guaranteed that a God will bail him out at some point?

But then ‘Stormbringer’ kicks off and everything gets better again.

‘Stormbringer’ is the culmination of everything that Moorcock had planned for Elric, Kinslayer and Prince in Ruins. It was Elric’s fate to start off the events that would lead to the end of the world and it is his fate to be there, right at the end, to ensure that the Balance is kept.
Moorcock wastes no time in unravelling the world that he has created in a manner reminiscent to the very forces of Chaos in the page. Empires burn and are overwhelmed by the forces of Chaos right up until the very last page. All the while, Elric constantly fights between his desire to stay with Zarozinia and the sense of fatalism that forces him to take up the Black Sword once again and fight. The way Moorcock approaches this is interesting to see as something that is constantly mentioned never becomes repetitive and boring. The confrontations are suitably epic (even though Elric still conveniently manages to escape danger with inches to spare) and the world Moorcock shows us may be alien in it’s nature but we can still see how it might become the world that is promised.
Elric’s end is never in any question and is quite apt considering his symbiotic relationship with his sword. There are themes swimming just under the surface of these last few paragraphs (Moorcock says so in one of the letters printed within) but I always prefer, as I have read this before, to be swept away by just how powerful these last moments are. A new world is ushered in and we are left in no doubt as to what the cost has been...

I found ‘Elric: The Stealer of Souls’ to be very much a book of two halves; one half superb but the other... not so. ‘Stormbringer’ more than makes up for any issues, that I had, with ‘The Stealer of Souls’ though. A very good place to start if you’ve never read any of the ‘Elric’ stories before...

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

2 comments:

Hagelrat said...

I've got Watchmen in my TBR pile. Can't wait.

Liz said...

I love this cover. I recently picked up one of the Elric novels in a charity shop, unread, unmarked for next to nothing. Mark almost passed out in glee. I've not read any of MM's work, but have been aware of his body of work for a long long time, so I think it's time I need to rectify the missing bits in my education, ai?