by Michael Moorcock



176pp/.25/April 1971

The Knight of the Swords

Bob Haberfield

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

While Michael Moorcock's best known creation may be Elric of Melnibone, part of the intrigue of his concept of the multiverse and the Eternal Champion is that all of his characters can become interconnected in some way and allow him to explore different fantastic worlds. One of his characters, perhaps the one closest in spirit to Elric, is Prince Corum Jhaelen Irsei, the Vadhagh prince of the scarlet robes. Just like Elric, Corum has distinguishing characteristics, traverses a fantastic realms with unique landscapes, and deals with the Lords of Chaos. However, Corum's initial outing doesn't quite live up the the expectations set by Moorcock's other novels.

When the novel opens, Corum is one of the last members of his race, the Vadhagh, living in seclusion with his family in Castle Erorn. On a whim, and possibly so he can find himself a wife, Corum's father sends him on a circuit to the other Vadhagh castles on the continent to learn what has been happening, although since the other Vadhagh are equally reclusive, it doesn't seem like Corum will be able to learn a lot. Moorcock does make it clear that the Vadhagh aren't the only race on the world, there are the equally decadent Nhadragh and the upstart Mabden. Corum very quickly learns that the Mabden are on the move, trying to wipe out the last of the Vadhagh. His own encounter with them leaves him missing an eye and a hand.

While Elric was a pawn of the gods, he at least had volition. Corum is also a pawn of fate, although the specifics are not dwelled upon in The Knight of the Swords, but he is shown with very little volition within the confines of his introductory outing. He is sent on his quest by his father, he is captured by the Mabden warlord Glandyth-a-Krae, rescued by the Brown Man, and given a second quest by Shool-an-Jyvan. Very little of what he does is because he takes the initiative. Even when he finds himself at Moidel's Mount with the Margravate Rhalina, their relationship seems to happen out of thin air, with not real involvement from either character. Throughout the short novel, Corum doesn't have the same panache as Elric, Hawkmoon, or other aspects of the Eternal Champion, despite the accoutrements Moorcock has given him that should put him in their league.

Perhaps more interesting that Corum, himself, at least for those who have read the Elric novels, is the very different version of Arioch, the titular Knight of the Swords, presented in the novel. When first seen, Arioch is less couth that the version of the god Elric knows, but Corum, whom Arioch sees as an enemy, although a minor one, has the chance to see different aspects of the Lord of Chaos. Not beholden to him Corum need not grovel and Arioch need not attempt to win Corum over to his side. Corum's relationship to Arioch is the reverse of Elric's, and while Elric was a servant, even if occasioanlly unwilling, Corum is more closely bound to Law.

Despite the final confrontation, The Knight of the Swords feels like it is just dipping its toe into the water to introduce Corum to the reader. Corum shows potential to be an interesting hero worthy of a place in the pantheon of Moorcock's other characters, but this book is a formative one, as if neither Corum, nor Moorcock, are quite sure who he is yet. Corum does show growth from the naive youth he is depicted as at the beginning of the novel, and he begins to understand both his place in the world and the powers with which he has been gifted. Moorcock has also put in enough clues that will pay off later in the series to show that he had a plan for the character, even if it isn't obvious within the pages of this book.

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