‘Never again would she know that self-destructive pride so familiar to all great empires in decline.’
‘Yet some of us can refuse the destiny that the Lords of Law and Chaos set out for us and still survive, still create something which the gods are forbidden to touch.’
Patient, expansive, and filled with oriental mystique, Elric: The Fortress of the Pearl (ETFP) is a completely different story to its precursor Elric of Melnibone (EM), which was concerned with courtly intrigue, empire, and tragedy.
As with EM, we see Elric at his weakest and strongest, woken up to find he’s given sustenance by an elixir that saps his life-force and causes addiction, putting him at the mercy of his captor’s supplies; and yet he’s armed with soul-sucking sword, the Stormbringer, which is only too happy to have its thirst sated. And so, placed in a precarious position by the elixir, but more concerned about the fate of a slave boy than his welfare, Elric strikes a bargain with greedy Lord Gho Fhaazi of the city-in-decline Qhazhasaat, to secure the Pearl at the Heart of the World, whatever that is …
Elric is motivated more by the boy’s safety than his need for the antidote but he doesn’t know why he put himself in a position beforehand to have to agree to the quest when he longs for his love Cymoril, who he left at the mercy of her brother in Imyyr. Am I the only reader who wonders, just what was Elric thinking? His unusual and moral behaviour is partly what makes the series as compelling as it is with his drive to grow for the good of the empire.
Beyond the setting out of a beautiful world – or simply worldbuilding – with colour, tribal customs, and treacherous allegiances, ETFP introduces us to dreamthieves and a quest through dream worlds reminiscent of Dante’s Nine Circles of hell but quite different in its seducing of innermost desires, nostalgia, and other hopes and dreams that can distract from selfless priorities. I was strongly reminded of Arabian Nights with the lustrous colour, marketplaces, strange beasts, and vicious horsemen.
Is it as good as the first book?
Yes, although the patient delivery of description may take some getting used to as Elric is apart from the central figures of court. Also missing are the high powerful entities of Chaos. Once you’re past those you realise you’re in for a quest that sweeps you into a world you want to be a part of, in dreams where odd things happen, odd creatures thrive, and odd desires penetrate.