The usual enjoyable Treece. I'm having a lot of fun going through his novels. An underrated writer for sure, though he's as good as Lloyd Alexander and his books are chockful of well-done research that really immerses you in these worlds he writes about. Here, he does away with the romaticism of the Arthur legend with a ruthlessness worthy of George RR Martin, Robert Holdstock, or Maurice Druon. This gives us back the historical characters as they might have lived in their time.5 stars.
Moorcock delivers souls for Arioch, and classic Elric for you, in The Fortress of the Pearl
Expect Michael Moorcock’s style/voice. It is “pulpy,” with tons of wild action. A breathtaking pace will drag you from you reading chair! It’s blistering. Literally, every few pages new conflict emerges, and is dealt with. Every 2-3 pages, Elric encounters mind-bending conflicts. This is awesome for the first 33%, then it becomes underwhelming/distracting since many of the threats are obtuse. Some sequences are spot-on awesome (fire beetles, tons of corpses blow apart via sorcery); and many are silly and wildly coincidental (a cameo from Whiskers the winged, fighting cat, really?).
Moorcock has a weird milieu in his Eternal Champion multiverse, and has dream-like worlds. In Fortress, this dreaminess is explicit, since Elric travels in dreams for >50% of the book [no spoilers there, the book flap reveals as much]. Fortress of the Pearl reads as if Elric quests for the Holy Grail in Dante’s Hell. In fact, Elric goes through ~6 levels of supernatural tours searching for a “Holy Girl” in the hidden/remote Fortress of the Pearl. Plenty of tour guides come and go through these levels:
You’ll be treated to heavy doses of philosophy too, which usually add depth: life’s motivations, realization of dreams, moving past tragic pasts (avoid the City of Inventive Cowardice!), addressing conflict and political corruption, complacency on personal and social levels, etc.
Untapped Potential. The pacing and apparent random encounters, which are Moorcock Hallmarks, has limits. There still seems untapped potential here in Elric’s tale. Moorcock has started so many interesting threads that he’ll never be able to fill them in, but he hardly had to start new ones. Here, Oone the Dreamthief is introduced, for instance; her tale is clearly a setup for The Dreamthief's Daughter. Starting new tales is all well and good, but when word-count and pacing is designed to be dense/efficient, I would have enjoyed more explanation of Cymoril. She still lies in Imrryr (The Dreaming City), while he literally adventures in dreams. Melnibone’s past with Quarzhasaat is explained on a cursory level too. So, Moorcock delivered a decent, intermediate story. Yet he could have delivered much more.
On the whole, Fortress of the Pearl is a wondrous blend of Sword and Sorcery. It had me hooked. It developed Elric story and character well enough (note that it was published last in the sequence but is only #2 chronologically). Elric remains a must read for fantasy fans, especially Sword & Sorcery fans (Howard, Leiber, Wagner,…). If starting new, try reading in chronological sequence:
Story Chronology #: Title (publication year)
1: Elric of Melniboné (1972)
2: Fortress Of The Pearl (1989)
3: The Sailor on the Seas of Fate (1976)
4: The Weird of the White Wolf (1961)
5: Elric: The Sleeping Sorceress (1970)
6: Revenge of the Rose (1991)
7: The Bane of the Black Sword (1962)
8: Stormbringer (1963)