By Michael Moorcock
When I was a kid my high school buddies and I would swap our favorite sword and sorcery books around. I loaned my pals precious copies of Robert E. Howard’s Conan books and in return I borrowed a book called The Sailor on the Seas of Fate. The cover showed a white-faced fellow doing something desperate with a sword. The words inside blew me away.
This is book two in the saga of Elric of Melniboné. While sword and sorcery thrives on sympathetic anti-heroes, Elric pushed the envelope. He is the offspring of the Melnibonéans, a pre-human race of tremendous magical skill, superior refinement, and absolutely depraved decadence. He seeks to revitalize the kingdom he rules, and so has ventured forth to visit the human kingdoms who have freed themselves from the hated despotism of Melniboné. The books opens with Elric alone and hunted on the shore of a human kingdom whither he has gone to learn new things, but has found only hatred and violence.
A few things one must know about Elric: he is an albino with little physical strength, he is best friends with the worst demon from the pits of Chaos, and he has a sword that doesn’t just kill you, it drinks your soul. On that cheery note our hero is off, plunged head-first into the seas of fate. First he is recruited into an all-star cast of Michael Moorcock heroes sailing on a ship of the damned to save the many universes from a terrible doom. Next he’s on an island of the damned, presided over by an insane black sorcerer who might just be kin. Finally he’s a hired sword for a band of merchant adventurers on a trek that may reveal the origins of Elric’s people.
It’s not just the nostalgia talking. This stuff is fantastic. Moorcock mates slam-bang action with a brooding sense of doom and wraps it in crisp prose that leaves a reader begging for more. There is no sword and sorcery that is better, Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber are Moorcock’s peers. Elric stands beside Conan, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser at the pinnacle of sword and sorcery.