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Duke Elric (Chronicles of the Last Emperor of Melniboné, Vol. 4) by Michael Moorcock
Cover Artist: Justin Sweet
Review by Andrea Johnson
Del Rey Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345498656
Date: 24 March 2009 List Price $15.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

This new edition of Duke Elric volume 4 offers the novella "Sailor on the Seas of Fate", the script of a fabulous little graphic novel from the 90s, a few essays on the psychology of Elric and fantasy itself, a short story that might feature an incarnation of Elric or it might not, all beautifully illustrated by Justin Sweet. Not only do readers get to enjoy Elric for a while, they also get treated to some behind the scenes looks at his origins, and other works by Michael Moorcock.

Something I've always appreciated about Elric stories is that they simply refuses to follow the rules of high fantasy. Sure, Elric employs sorcery, and elemental spirits, and the occasional demon, but he refuses to be ruled by formal questing, honorable sidekicks or partners, or honor in general. This albino anti-hero's vague goals include visiting the human kingdoms to learn from them, and eventually returning home to his beloved Cymoril, and that's really it. Elric may be handsome and intelligent and honorable when he feels like it, but more often he acts like someone you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley - a man satisfied with violence because it is fun. This may sound alien to readers who are used to honorable fantasy characters, but in the kingdom of Melnibone, decadence rules and honor and goals are considers a waste of time and energy. Due to his beliefs, Elric is in exile.

In "Sailor on the Seas of Fate", Elric finds himself on a seemingly random ship, with a seemingly random group of warriors, all mercenaries who have agreed to help the blind captain of the ship fight a brother sister team of evil sorcerers. Not having anything better to do, Elric joins them. He and three other warriors become the leaders of the team, and these four men are very special. As explained by Erekose, they are the four who are one, a bizarre team that any Moorcock fan will instantly recognize as incarnations of Elric himself. The four who are one and their teams of warriors find the fantastical sorcerers, but are only able to defeat them when the four become one. This requires Elric to give up control of himself completely, to fully submit to the wills of others. Not an easy task for a man who has never bent the knee to anyone, a man who believes truly in free will, and has now found himself destined to do something he did not choose for himself.

Realizing he is in a world parallel to his own, Elric seeks only a way home. Hearing rumors of a crimson gate that will get him home, he seeks Saxif d'Aan, the mad ruler of this ocean plane. The only way Elric can bargain with d'Aan is to sacrafice an innocent. Well, which will it be? Honor, or home to his betrothed?

Elric constantly battles his own selfish wants versus the idea of honor. A difficult task, as his only weapon, the semi-sentient Stormbringer, kills everything in it's path, be it friend or foe. When fighting isn't enough to survive, Elric calls on elementals and demons, they are happy to help him, for a vicious price. Poor Elric, convinced he has free will over his domain, is merely a pawn in a larger world of good and evil. A tragic, mysterious character that once a fan of, you won't be able to get enough of.

The graphic novel script included in this volume is part of Michael Moorcock's Multiverse, originally serialized in 1997-1998. Working with other authors, Moorcock created a contemporary world for Elric to play in. Taking place in dark ages England, Elric rescues his cursed sword from a monastery, and finds himself a hired mercenary to help a man rescue his kidnapped daughter. A few magic carpet rides later, the team grows, and finds the homeland of dragons in Africa. This is where things got a little confusing for me, as the plot line overlaps stories written by the other authors in Moorcock's graphic novel team. There were a lot characters who I didn't know, referring to other adventures and people I had never heard of. A fun story to be sure, but readers not familiar will all three volumes of Moorcock's Multiverse might feel a little lost, as I did.

The "sort-of" Elric short story at the end of the book is a lot of fun as well. I call it a "sort-of" Elric story because it features a mysterious albino, who shares many characteristics with Elric, but answers to a different name, and has very different goals. Is this another incarnation of our eternal hero? Or just a coincidence? I'm coming to believe that with Michael Moorcock, nothing is coincidence.

Fans of the Elric adventures will surely enjoy this newly illustrated volume, and new readers will enjoy it as well, although I do recommend starting at the beginning of series, to get the full background as to what is going on. New to fantasy or fiction, and not sure if Elric is right for you? If you enjoy good guys who aren't always all that good, if you enjoy action, magical weapons who hate their owners, manipulative demons, and flying dragons, then yes, you will most likely enjoy your time spent with our generations favorite anti-hero.

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