Elric of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock
Published in 1972
“It is the colour of a bleached skull, his flesh; and the long hair which flows below his shoulders is milk-white.”
This first sentence describes the eponymous hero in Elric of Melniboné, by Michael Moorcock. The albino emperor takes center stage in this fantasy tale about love, betrayal, magic, and fate. What seems like a standard hero’s journey for most of its story turns into a promising start to a series, though possibly too late in the book for it to be effective.
Elric is the albino emperor of Melniboné, a dragon isle that has existed for thousands of years. He is well read, but his mother died giving birth to him, so he was the only heir to the throne and causes a commotion because he lives outside the tradition of his culture. Yyrkoon is his cousin; a dragon prince who aspires to the Ruby Throne and believes himself to be the true heir of Melniboné. His ambition causes him to betray Elric and become the primary antagonist of the novel.
Melniboné is an island separate from those of humans. The inhabitants use slaves and yearn for power over others; they seek to satisfy their pleasures regardless of the cost, which puts them at odds with Elric who is merciful and suffers from a crisis of conscious.
There is a lot to put Elric of Melniboné in the fantasy category. Elric’s island is home to dragons, sorcerers, and once served the Lords of Chaos; a pantheon of gods that force their will upon mortals. Elric makes a Faustian deal with one of these gods and promises to be a servant as long as he gets the god’s help in finding his nemesis. Destiny underscores the entire novel’s story, with Elric finally deciding to take it into his own hands rather than be the pawn of forces more powerful. He is pulled by fate into dire and dangerous circumstances, and takes agency of his life at the end of the novel.
I must admit I was left a bit unsatisfied after reading this novel; I didn’t have any expectations going into it, but it still felt rather lackluster to me. The characters are pretty flat, and Elric doesn’t really become interesting until the very end of the book since we don’t get much in the way of his true personality; we are told how strong and wise he is, rather than shown. Overall, Elric of Melniboné, is an entertaining, if brief, read. There are better fantasy novels out there, but there are also worse.
Verdict: 3 fast-paced quests out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of albino protagonists (see also: Geek Love), those who enjoy fantasy stories, people looking for a quick read, those looking to start a new fantasy series, and die-hard fans of the fantasy genre.
Not recommended for: Those looking for epic fantasy, people who enjoy copious world building, cartographers, those who dislike albino protagonists, or people looking for a long read.