THE BANE OF THE BLACK SWORD
by Michael Moorcock
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Michael Moorcock’s The Bane of the Black Sword collects three stories about Elric of Melniboné and adds a fourth story featuring Elric's friend, Rackhir the Red. Although the four stories were written independently of each other, there is a pleasant symmetry in the first and last story while the second story adds to Elric's overarching epic. The stories also show a greater interaction between the Lords of Chaos and Elric's realm, setting up the situation for the final novel of the series.
Moorcock introduced Theleb K'aarna, Elric's longest running nemesis in "The Singing Citadel," the final story collected in Weird of the White Wolf. After his appearances in two of the stories in The Vanishing Tower, Theleb K'aarna makes his final appearance in "The Stealer of Souls," which has Elric helping fend of an attack on Tanelorn. The story opens with four merchants of Bakshaan hiring Elric to take care of a more successful merchant. Elric agrees, planning to rob the merchants, until he discovers that their target is in league with Theleb K'aarna, who, goaded by Queen Yishana, plans to destroy Tanelorn. The Theleb K'aarna depicted in "The Stealer of Souls" has magical powers and is able to summon the strange toad-like Quaolnargn, but personally he is a whiny, ineffectual villain. His need to Yishana's acceptance is pathetic, especially given the open contempt she demonstrates for him. This is made worse by Theleb K'aarna's own realization of the situation, such as when he notes that he could magically make her love him, but he would know it wasn't real. For most of their conflict, Theleb K'aarna has more reason for hating Elric than Elric has for Theleb K'aarna, but by this point, the Pan Tangian sorcerer has made enough of a nuisnace of himself that it is understandable that Elric just wants to be rid of him, especially when Tanelorn is threatened, although in the end, Theleb K'aarna's demise is somewhat anti-climactic.
In "Kings in Darkness," Elric and Moonglum are traveling through the end of the Forest of Troos in the small kingdom of Org. Wary of the forest because of its reputation, they nevertheless find themselves entering it after Elric heads of to rescue a damsel in distress. Up until this point in the series, Elric has pined for his long-lost love, Cymoril, even as he has struck up relationships with Oone, Yishana, and other women. His first glimpse of Zarozinia, however, cures him and he instantly falls in love with her and decides they are to be married. Unfortunately, there is little chemistry between the two on the page. Other than introducing a character who will have a major impact of Elric, the story is a rather pedestrian look at the three heroes pretending to by gods in a primitive society, perhaps not the wisest decision in a world where gods actually show up with some regularity.
Although Zarozinia is depicted as Elric's final love and life partner in "Kings of Darkness," the very next story has him leaving her behind to go adventuring with Moonglum, although, to be fair, the two are working to protect Zarozinia's city of Karlaak from nomaid invaders in "The Flame Bringers" (a.k.a. "The Caravan of Forgotten Dreams"). The Flame Bringer, Terarn Gashtek, is clearly modeled after central Asian leaders such as Attila the Hun or Chinggis Khagan, and as such is not particularly interesting. He wavers between having too much trust in Elric and Moonglum and being too suspicious of them, often at the wrong time. Even more interesting that Terarn Gashtek is his prisoner, Drinij Bara, who provides an insight into a magic system in Elric's world which is very different to the magic performed by Elric and Theleb K'aarna. Rather than demon or ritual based, Drinij Bara's magic appears more subtle, including his storage of his soul in a small cat. Although Elric is repeatedly referred to as evil throughout the series, including by Zarozinia, his actions in "The Flame Bringers" show him as caring for other people, whether the citizens of Karlaak, Drinij Bara, or random women and children in Gorthan who may be targeted by Terarn Gashtek's forces. While this can be seen as a result of Elric's marrying Zarozinia (which happened within the previous three months), this sort of activity occurs throughout the epic.
Set in Elric's world, "To Rescue Tanelorn," as with "The Dream of Earl Aubec" in The weird of the White Wolf isn't about Elric, although it sets up the final Elric story, much as "The Dream of Earl Aubec" set up "The Sleeping Sorceress" in The Vanishing Tower. "To Rescue Tanelorn" centers of Rackhir the Red Archer, whom Elric first met in Elric of Melniboné and who has featured in a few of Elric's stories. Rackhir is now on his own, trying to find supernatural help in his quest to save the city of Tanelorn from the forces of the beggars of Nadsokor under the guidance of the Chaos Lord Narjhan. Rackhir's quest feels similar to Elric's in the novel The Fortress of the Pearl as he passes through several planes of existance looking for the gate to the nxt plane until he finds the Gray Lords who might be willing to help. Along the way, Rackhir comes across his old lover, Sorana, who still serves Chaos, as Rackhir used to. As with many of the stories in the Elric cycle, "To Rescue Tanelorn" feels almost like an outline for a longer, more detailed work.
With the stories in The Bane of the Black Sword collected from individual tales written by Moorcock in 1962 and 1963, the bookend stories, "The Stealer of Souls" and "To Rescue Tanelorn" form a good symmetry, both of which focus on attacks on the eternal city. Elric successfully defends Tanelorn in the former by using creatures of the wind while Rackhir relied on ships which sailed the air. The stories also show an increase in the Lords of Chaos on Earth, although since they were written seperately, their Lords' influence isn't always clearly linked. In any event, the storis in The Bane of the Black Sword do set the stage for the final novel, Stormbringer, despite Elric declaring his intention of ridding himself of the blade.
|The Stealer of Souls||The Flame Bringers (a.k.a. The Caravan of Forgotten Dreams)|
|Kings in Darkness||To Rescue Tanelorn|
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