by Michael Moorcock



248pp/£11.95/June 1989

The Fortress of the Pearl

Michael Whelan

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

While most of Michael Moorcock’s Elric stories were written in the 1960s and 70s, in 1989, he returned to the character to tell a story set during the year Elric left Melniboné to learn about the Young Kingdoms. The Fortress of the Pearl is a novel length tale set between Elric of Melniboné and The Sailor on the Seas of Fate and opens in the decrepit city of Quarzhasaat, which once challenged Melniboné for power.

The city is ruled by a group of oligarchs who are blind to their true position in the world overall. Separated from the Young Kingdoms by the Sighing Desert, the believe that Melniboné was destroyed in their battle and they are a great power in the world rather than a small trading outpost frequented by nomadic desert tribes as little as possible. Elric is weakened and in need of assistance, which is provided to him by a potion made by Lord Gho Fhaazi, who seeks a great treasure, the Pearl at the Heart of the World. While Elric does not wish to help Lord Gho, when the nobleman reveals that the potion was also a slow acting poison to which only he has the antidote, Elric is left without a choice.

Traveling through the inhospitable desert with which he is unfamiliar, Elric finds himself face to face with Alnac Kreb, who, against all probability, knows who he is. As is Elric’s wont when he discovers a stranger in a distant land, the two become fast friends and Kreb helps him find the Bauradim, a nomadic tribe whose Holy Girl, Varadia, has fallen into a sorcerous sleep. There are indications that Varadia may hold the secret of the location of the Pearl, and Kreb, who is a dreamthief, may be able to enter her dreams to learn its location. Although Kreb fails, another dreamthief, Oone, makes her appearance and guides Elric through the seven realms of Varadia’s dreams to bring the girl out of her sleep and find the Pearl at the Heart of the World.

The Fortress of the Pearl introduces the concept of the dreamthief to Elric’s world, which he would later revisit in a trilogy beginning with The Dreamthief’s Daughter, which is also set up in the current novel. Although very different in tone from the earlier Elric novels, this one has a more philosophical bent and Moorcock has moved beyond telling a straight-forward adventure tale, the novel fits in well since Moorcock has already established that many of Elric’s adventures have a dream-like quality to the albino prince.

While Oone and Elric pass through multiple dream realms which Oone explains are differentiated from each other, their adventures in any one realm do not last long enough to be fully explored, although their differences can be seen in Elric’s outlook as they seek the Pearl. These realms and adventures don’t have a dream-like quality for the reader, appearing to be just as real as any of Elric’s other adventures, just as dreams feel real while they are being dreamt.

Between writing the main sequence of Elric novels and The Fortress of the Pearl, Moorcock not only underwent a change in writing style, but also a change in outlook His treatment of women in The Fortress of the Pearl is much more empowering. Oone is Elric’s equal and the Melnibonéan prince is almost a sidekick to her when she appears in the books. Varadia, the sleeping princess, is also aa much more potent force than she would have been in Moorcock’s earlier works.

The Fortress of the Pearl is a different style of novel than the other Elric novels and won’t appeal to all of the fans of the series. It reflects Moorcock’s growth as an author, the changing mores of the culture, and the advancement of the fantasy genre from a time when short stories dominated the scene to a more novel-centric approach.

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