The final three novels of the original six Elric stories by SFF legend Michael Moorcock, compiled into an omnibus edition. Man, these stories are sure action-packed. I'll see how well I can individually sum up each novel.
The Vanishing Tower: This story chronicles a number of adventures of Elric as he travels the Young Kingdoms attempting to slay his (new) mortal enemy, the sorcerer Theleb K'aarna. The first portion of The Vanishing Tower was one of the worst and most derivative Elric stories I've encountered, saved only by some decent fight scenes with demons and a healthy dose of Moonglum, Elric's best bud (and probably his friend with the most longevity). The second portion, To Snare A Pale Prince, was pretty cool, as it sent Elric and Moonglum to wretched Nadsokor, city of Beggars. The whole Nadsokor adventure was very creative, and this is emblematic of why Moorcock is a visionary of the genre, in that he was able to discard well-worn tropes and do something new and exciting with sword and sorcery. Even fantasy produced today lacks the sheer inventiveness of Moorcock's now-classic efforts. The third portion of the tale begins with Elric being typically self-destructive and abandoning the storied peace of fabled Tanelorn, the Eternal City. He has many and sundry adventures, eventually encountering a couple of other Eternal Champions, Corum and Erekose, and then romps around kicking ass with them. This, to me, was reminiscent of Sailor On The Seas Of Fate (which I'm sure was intended) and that's a good thing, because I really enjoyed Sailor and the whole Multiverse crossover thing.
The Bane Of The Black Sword: This one was broken up into four shorter stories instead of the usual three. The first part, The Stealer Of Souls, concludes Elric's long-standing feud with the mad sorcerer Theleb K'aarna with the predictable termination of the sorcerer's life by soul-drinking hellblade. What's most interesting to me about this story is that Elric and Moonglum are essentially hired by an alliance of merchants to take out a successful rival who is undercutting them - in essence, they're engaging in price-fixing. Although supposedly against the principles of free market capitalism, this still occurs all over the real world. Anyway, in part two (Kings In Darkness) Elric meets a new lady friend and they are both promptly captured by a society of ghoul-worshippers. In stories like this one where the premise and villains are more typical of the genre, Moorcock really tends to come up short. His prose is curt, almost truncated, and his characters in these sword and sorcery tales are of such mythic proportions that there is actually very little character to delve into when the plot becomes more standard fantasy fare. Part three is little better. Titled The Flamebringers, it is another fairly typical fantasy tale of an evil invading force that gets somehow stopped by our reluctant anti-hero, interesting only in the fact that by this point Elric is truly sick of adventuring and had gotten married and hung up his black sword until this new menace comes along to disturb his retirement. The fourth part is actually my favourite in Bane, and doesn't feature Elric at all, but instead follows Rackhir the Red Archer, who is desperately trying to find the Grey Lords in an effort to protect Tanelorn from the invading hordes of Chaos. Really, there's too much interesting metaphysical stuff going on in this rather short story for me to even list here. It's an excellent read, completely redeeming Bane and nicely setting up events for Stormbringer.
Stormbringer: It's interesting that although this is the last of the six original Elric stories in terms of chronology, it was one of the first to be published. It's also the one of the best. In the first part, Dead God's Homecoming, Elric's young wife Zarozinia is kidnapped and Elric and his kinsman Dyvim Slorm must bring their runeblades, Stormbringer and Mournblade, to a confrontation with her kidnapper, the Dead God Darnizhaan. Darnizhaan actually makes some very compelling arguments as to why Elric should capitulate and hand over his sword but Elric, true to form, betrays and kills him. In part two, there are plenty of terrific fantasy scenes that have been rehashed by just about every author in the field. Titanic sea battles, Elric facing off against the aristocracy of Hell, prophecies fulfilled...this is good, classic stuff. Part three returns to a familiar quest narrative, although the face-off with Mordaga the giant was anything but typical. Elric, having just treacherously slain his friend Rackhir in a fit of bloodlust, decides to spurn the prophecy and not kill the giant, negotiating for the Chaos Shield instead. Having done the merciful thing for once in his wretched life, Elric is completely unprepared for when his faithful companion Moonglum then stabs Mordaga in the back, slaying the giant as was prophesied. Part four is called Doomed Lord's Passing, and it is truly the culmination of this tragic tale, no matter how many sequels Moorcock later decided to write. It is also where the Elric saga abandons the sword and sorcery subgenre and crosses over into epic fantasy. Elric vanquishes all foes, murders his friends and loved ones, and finally loses his life to his own demon-possessed sword. A more fitting ending to Elric's gloomy life could not have been possible.
Well, I truly enjoyed the Elric saga, despite the formulaic nature of some of the stories and the generally scanty nature of Moorcock's prose. Not sure whether I'll continue on and read the other 5-6 stories in the Elric "series" as these original six ended on a high note, and I haven't heard a tremendous amount of positive feedback about the others. Maybe some day.