by Michael Moorcock

Berkley Medallion


160pp/$.75/August 1971

The Queen of the Swords

Bob Haberfeld

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Following on the heels of The Knight of the Swords, the second novel in Michael Moorcock's chronicles of Corum is The Queen of the Swords, in which Prince Corum Jhaelen Irsei will face off against the second Sword ruler, Xiombarg. The narrative continues from the previous novel and while Corum and Rhalina are living reasonably peacably at Moidel's Mount, it is clear to them that the peace won't last long, for Corum's nemesis, Glandyth-a-Krae is still on the loose.

Events are set in motion when a stranger is washed ashore at Moidel's Mount by the Wading God. The stranger immediately recognizes Corum and introduces himself as Jhary-a-Conel, a companion to the Champion Eternal. Initially leery of Jhary, their friendship is quickly cemented and when Jhary's winged cat, Whiskers, brings word that the Mabden are planning a massive attack on both Moidel's Mount and the peaceful Mabden kingdom from which Rhalina comes, Corum and his band spring into action on a quest that will take them to Xiombarg's realm to find the legendary City of the Pyramids despite the fact that Xiombarg seeks vengeance against Corum for his role in Arioch's destruction.

While Corum was something of a puppet of fate in The Knight of the Swords, in The Queen of the Swords, the character shows much more volition. He understands the situation of the world and, to some extent, the multiverse, better than he did in the previous book and actually institutes his own plans and takes leadership of the band that forms around him: Jhary, Rhalina, and, once they get to Xiombarg's realm, Noreg-Dan, the King without a Country. This makes Corum a much more interesting character. Despite his newfound agency, The Queen of the Swords still employs a certain amount of deus ex machina in its resolution. When Corum gets into a tight fix, which is almost always in battle, he simply needs to lift back his eyepatch and summon his undead hordes to fight for him. The rules Moorcock has established governing the actions of the gods limit what Xiombarg can do to either Corum or his home realm, but her eventual defeat has little to do with Corum's actions.

The landscape Corum must travel through is also more interesting in The Queen of the Swords than it was in the previous book. When Corum, Rhalina, and Jhary find themselves in Xiombarg's realms, they must navigate the Lake of Voices, which ranks up there with any of the greatest landscapes Moorcock has created, along with the milky river that they later find themselves on, although Moorcock's depiction of the river is more one of suggestion that detail. Similarly, Jhary-a-Conel almost immediately shows more depth of character than Rhalina does and Noreg-Dan is more interesting in concept than he is in reality.

In The Queen of the Swords, Corum acquires his companion, Jhary-a-Conel, and becomes explicitly linked to the Champion Eternal. Having grown from a youth whose activities were all defined for him, he is beginning to exhibit a sense of agency which was missing from the first novel. The character and his setting becomes more interesting in this book although there are still he weaknesses of much of his supporting cast and the sense that events are being driven by fate and other forces outside Corum's control. Although Xiombarg is the primary villain of the novel, the off-stage presence of Glandyth-a-Krae is constantly being built up as Corum's ultimate battle, meaning that any interaction with Xiombarg will feel anticlimactic.

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