Friday, January 14, 2022

Book Review: The Swords of Corum

Book Review: 'The Swords of Corum' by Michael Moorcock
4 / 5 Stars

This 1987 omnibus edition published by Grafton (509 pp.) contains the three novels / novelettes The Knight of the Swords (1971), The Queen of the Swords (1971), and The King of the Swords (1972). The striking cover illustration is by Mark Salwowski. 

[ These three volumes in the ‘Corum’ franchise are followed by the trilogy of The Bull and the Spear (1973), The Oak and the Ram (1973), and The Sword and the Stallion (1974). All six Corum novels fall within the larger framework of Moorcock’s ‘Eternal Champion’ saga. ]

In The Knight of the Swords we are introduced to Corum, an Elric-like figure who is a member of the dwindling race of lotus-eaters, equivalent to the Elves of mythology, known as the Vadhagh. Having sequestered themselves from the world for centuries in order to navel-gaze, the Vadhagh are ill-prepared to respond when targeted for extinction by a race of barbarians known as the Mabden.

Corum alone survives the confrontation with the Mabden, and vows to avenge himself upon them, and their leader, the brutish psychopath Glandyth-a-Krae. However, Corum’s path to revenge must first evade the machinations of Arioch, the eponymous Knight of Swords……
Arioch, Lord of Chaos, sworn opponent of the Lords of Law, and the master of the Mabden.

In The Queen of the Swords Corum finds himself destined to confront Xiombarg, an entity even more powerful than Arioch. However, aid comes to Corum in the form of the inestimable Jerry Cornelius, disguised here as ‘Jhary-a-Conel’. Corum and Jhary must brave all manner of dangers as they seek aid against the onslaught of the armies of the Mabden…….and their sorcerous allies.

In The King of the Swords the action moves to the realm of Chaos and the mightiest of its potentates, the ‘King’ of the title: Mabelode. But all is not lost for Corum, for two manifestations of the Eternal Champion shall fight alongside him: Elric of Melnibone, and Erekose. Can the three warriors turn the tide against the forces of Chaos and restore hope to the multiverse ?

Although it’s over 500 pages long, the Swords trilogy is a quick and engaging read, and a reminder that Moorcock in his prime certainly had the talent necessary to write a large number of novels and short stories every year, while at the same time conducting editorial duties for periodicals (such as New Worlds).

With Swords, Moorcock demonstrates the ability to world-build without the need for pages and pages of exposition, and to populate his novels with interesting characters without having to indulge in protracted explorations of their psychological and emotional states. 

Dialogue is kept succinct, and the narrative constantly propelled by one plot development after another; sometimes these are accompanied by episodes of violence that approach splatterpunk. To incorporate such grue was something of a provocation in fantasy tales written during the early 70s. 

The only reason I couldn’t give Swords a five-star rating was that the third novel in the trilogy shows signs of fatigue in terms of plotting, although it does redeem itself to a large degree with the piling-on of ‘cosmic’ revelations in its closing chapters. 

Summing up, Swords shows it’s possible to write a memorable fantasy / sword-and-sorcery trilogy without exceeding 200 pages per novel. Well worth having in your collection ! 

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