Elric of Melniboné (The Elric Saga #1) by Michael Moorcock - Book Review

Write on: Fri, 21 Aug 2020 by  in Assaph's Reviews Read 3861

I've been in the mood for some classic SF/F lately, and since I've been meaning to re-read the Elric saga this seemed like the perfect, timely choice.

What to Expect

A swords-and-sorcery prequel to one of the most famous heroes of fantasy. Moorcock wrote the original stories in the 1960's, but revisited Elric throughout the coming decades. I set out to read the original tales, but started with this prequel that was written when all the first stories were collected into volumes in the early 70's. Publishing, it seems, has always been a madhouse.

The story tells about how Elric came into possession of Stormbringer, his demonic sword. His character here is not as cynical and self-proclaimed evil as in the previous stories, but that is an artefact of Moorcock painting the picture of how Elric got to be the way he is.

What I liked

There is a certain charm (but see below) in old-style swords-and-sorcery. Not every book that has medieval weapons and mages is S&S, there are certain elements of style that stretch from Conan onwards: the personal rather than grandiose conflicts, the low-magic high-adventure, and often a sense of ennui accompanying the hero.

The writing style was interesting, employing a choice of words and sentence construction that fits well with the vaguely archaic saga-feeling and that one does not often see today. Elric himself is somewhat more relatable in this volume than the original stories, but in true pulp style having a character interesting is not the same as sympathetic - don't expect the deep attachment common in today's prurient YA styles.

I also enjoyed the cosmology and mythology, done in a style that perfectly fits the blurry border between Sci-Fi and Fantasy, the tone of low-magic Swords & Sorcery and themes common in the era (order vs chaos), and it probably a big factor in the series overall success.

What to be aware of

This word is dated, and it's emulating a style even older (that of the pulps). There are certainly things that would look so to a modern reader, from the adverb-heavy descriptions to the rampant chauvinism. This is the style of work that was never meant to be inclusive for women or anyone beyond the "typically masculine" hero. It is interesting to read in context, but even for the time it was written there were already plenty of SF/F works that were ahead of their times, rather harking going back.

Felix's Review

Felix found this a lot more relatable. Probably because he himself comes from an older culture. He enjoyed the adventure, could see the dangers of emperors and their cruelties, and while he sympathises with the benefits of using magic and demonic swords, he'd rather keep otherworldly beings where they belong - elsewhere.


It's a dated work, and it shows. I'd recommend it for those trying to explore classic Swords & Sorcery, to learn from both the (good) style of storytelling and the (bad) way of handling diversity.


Assaph has been a bibliophile since he learnt to read at the age of five, and a Romanophile ever since he first got his hands on Asterix, way back in elementary school. This exacerbated when his parents took him on a trip to Rome and Italy - he whinged horribly when they dragged him to "yet another church with baby angels on the ceiling", yet was happy to skip all day around ancient ruins and museums for Etruscan art. 

He has since been feeding his addiction for books with stories of mystery and fantasy of all kinds. A few years ago he randomly picked a copy of a Lindsay Davis' Marcus Didius Falco novel in a used book fair, and fell in love with Rome all over again, this time from the view-point of a cynical adult. His main influences in writing are Steven Saylor, Lindsey Davis, Barry Hughart and Boris Akunin. 

Assaph now lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife, kids, cats, and - this being Australia - assorted spiders. By day he is a software product manager, bridging the gap between developers and users, and by night he's writing - he seems to do his best writing after midnight.



Twitter: @assaphmehr