Sunday, June 03, 2001

Review: "The Dreamthief's Daughter" by Michael Moorcock

Some of my earliest reading in the fantasy genre took me to the land of Melnibone and introduced me to a character that remains one of my favorites - Elric, the albino prince.

What initially drew me to Elric was how different he was from many of the fantasy heroes I'd read at the time. Like most, he was quick to action, fearless and handled his soul-sucking sword Stormbringer well. Unlike others, though, he was a sardonic, introspective and tormented personality - an outcast and a character that I could relate to more than the dashing swashbucklers of many fantasy tales.

As Michael Moorcock's series strayed away from Elric and into other incarnations of the Eternal Champion, I lost interest. It's been years since I visited the land of Melnibone, and to be honest, I didn't even know that Moorcock was still writing tales of the Eternal Champion. Then, "The Dreamthief's Daughter" (Warner Aspect) landed on my desk. I was thrilled by the prospect of a new tale of one of my favorite characters.

In this book, the first of three Elric novels Moorcock will write for Warner Aspect, the author brings together two incarnations of the Eternal Champion - Elric of Melnibone and Ulric von Bek.

In 1930s Germany, von Bek's cousin Gaynor is moving quickly through the Nazi ranks as he searches for the Holy Grail and the Black Sword, both believed to be in von Bek's possession. Gaynor has convinced the Nazi elite that these items will lead them to victory, and secretly believes they'll also further his own desires.

On other levels of the multiverse, Gaynor the Damned and his minions are also on the move.

In Germany, von Bek is persecuted and placed in a concentration camp for refusing to reveal the location of the sword. But with the help of Oona, Elric's lost daughter, von Bek escapes into the strange land of the Middlemarch.

At the same time, Gaynor, with the aid of the mad goddess Lady Miggea, tricks Elric and takes the black blade Stormbringer. He then turns his attention on the Middlemarch, where the Grail is hidden. With both of the items in possession of the Nazis, it will take everything that Elric, Ulric and Oona can muster to save the multiverse as they know it.

"The Dreamthief's Daughter" is a return to the classic sword and sorcery-style storytelling that marked the early Elric novels, but with a dash of the more philosophical underpinnings of the von Bek books.

At close to 350 pages, it's small by today's fantasy standards, but it seems monstrous compared to the slim Elric volumes I remember - books that were easily read in one sitting. Remembering those early tales, I feared there would be a good bit of padding. Fortunately, that wasn't the case. Moorcock's storytelling style is still concise and to the point - a rare thing in this age of fantasy novels that seem to wander all over the landscape without actually advancing the story.

Moorcock does get bogged down in philosophical debate about the Nazis a bit too much. It seems as though he's trying to convince the reader that the Nazis were wrong and that many of them were insane. I don't think that's something you have to convince many people of.

Overall, though, this book is a satisfying journey back into the realms of the Eternal Champion, and it has whetted my appetite for the tales of Elric that are yet to come.

While not as good as the first volumes in the Elric saga, this one certainly earns its place on the bookshelf next to them.

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