by Michael Moorcock



141pp/£.25/March 1972

The King of the Swords

Bob Haberfield

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

The first trilogy of Michael Moorcock's Corum Jhaelen Irsei comes to an end with The King of the Swords, in which Corum and his companions go face-to-face with Mabelode, known as the Faceless. As with the previous novel, Corum and his companions must rely on a certain amount of deus ex machina in order to win the day, but by this point in the trilogy, Moorcock has established the technique as a legitimate plot device that is a response to earlier epic fantasy.

The novel opens with Corum, Rhalina, and Jhary-a-Conel living relatively peacefully at a rebuilt Castle Erorn while Mabden civilization rebuilds in the aftermath of the events of The Queen of the Swords and the Vadhagh from Xiombarg's planes of existence establish themselves in place of the Vadhagh who Glandyth-a-Krae wiped out in The King of the Swords. Unfortunately for Corum, peace doesn't work well within the confines of a fantasy novel and they find themselves arguing amongst themselves, hating and resenting even those they love. It turns out that the vitriol they are experiencing is the result of Glandyth-a-Krae’s use of a Nadragh sorcerer to cast a spell across the entire world and so, the heroes are off the the planes ruled by the last remaining sword ruler, King Mabelode.

One of the standard tropes of Chaos in Moorcock's writing is the constant change needed for the Lords of Chaos to remain interested in their creations, and Mabelode's realm is the epitome of this. As the trio move through King Mabelode’s realm nothing can be relied upon to stay the same for more than a few moments. Eventually separated, Corum travels to a world similar to ours in his attempts to find Rhalina and eventually rescue Jhary from a vanishing tower, which unites Corum with other incarnations of the Eternal Champion, Elric and Erekose, in an adventure which also appears in the Elric novel The Vanishing Tower.

When Corum eventually arrives as Tanelorn the peaceful city that forms part of his quest, he discovers the Lost God, Kwll, who hand Corum wore to replace the one he lost to Glandyth-a-Krae in The Knight of the Swords. Corum bargains with the powerful god which may be one of the greatest depictions of the power and concerns of a deity in all of the Eternal Champion novels. While the Lords of Law and the Lords of Chaos take close interest in the worlds of mortals as the battlefield across which their contest occurs, Kwll and his brother, Rhynn, couldn't be bothered by the acts of mortals, or, for that matter, the Lords of Law and Chaos. To Kwll, all of those beings are no more than mere gnats, perhaps even less than that.

While Kwll takes on the task of helping Corum with Mabelrode, who is a threat, but an ill-defined one, Corum finally gets the chance to square off against Glandyth-a-Krae. When the two met in the first nove, Glandyth was a veteran warrior bent on bloodlust and Corum was a relatively callow youth with little experience in the world or battle. At the end of The King of the Swords, Corum has grown as a warrior with much more experience in the world and the multiverse, along with an understanding of his role in it. When he faces off against Glandyth, he finds himself suffering from the loss of his hand and eye that his enemy initially inflicted upon him.

While the Swords Trilogydoesn't quite live up to the expectations based on the Elric, Hawkmoon, and other series Moorcock was writing at the time, it does come to a satisfying conclusion with an interesting look at the roles of the Lords of Chaos in the grand scheme of things. Although the trilogy wraps up well, Moorcock clearly liked the character and felt there was more of his story to tell, for he followed up with a second trilogy with a very different setting, although also with a look at how the world views (and creates) gods.

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