More pulpy sword & sorcery, episodic, fast-paced to the point of parody.
Includes what is now the obligatory cryptic prologue. Prologue here has the virtue of self-riducule, wherein the hero is not Elric, but his ancestor Aubec, from whom he had the sword in volume I, prior to achieving the nuclear-sword with which he is more famously associated. Aubec has gone to the edge of the world to incorporate the last castle into the empire, but is tricked by its occupant to win not merely the castle, but also "that which lies beyond," the formless chaos which might be tamed to yield "new plains, new mountains, new seas--new populations, even--whole cities full of people fresh-sprung and yet with the memory of generations of ancestors behind them" (24). This conquest beyond
, we are told in tolkienian tone, births the new kingdoms and leads to the death of the Empire (26).
Whatever. But: it is an accurate description of what Moorcock is doing. The world of the text is bordered by formless chaos in his mind, and, as each new installment is published, and Elric needs more areas to despoil and more persons to slaughter, the author can introduce hitherto unmentioned (and unthought by the writer until his agent reminded him that he is past deadline) portions of the setting, deities to trouble the protagonist or aid him, persons to be used or abused or both. It's extremely weak setting development, and, as there is really not enough space for character development, these being smallish volumes, with a loose focus on Elric's moping, not much of interest in personal interaction. His prior ally, Smiorgan, is snuffed out without much thought (66), during Elric's bizarre adventure to rescue his old fiancee (fails) by sacking
his imperial capital (half-succeeds). (The capital receives some stunning descriptions just prior to its destruction, though (39-40)).
Sure, cool that he's "truly rootless" (59), after Rome's destruction: "He could envisage no future, for his future had been bound up with his past" (id.)--he had "destroyed the last tangible sign that the grandiose magnificent Bright Empire had ever existed"--a nice bit of proto-fascist ideology--"He felt that most of himself was gone with it" (id.)--and yet, still, even so, "his mind reluctantly brooded on Cymoril" (id.). War on memory lost, or simply abandoned by author?
The first part settles all scores from volumes I and II, effectively ending any connection to the setting described therein--now rootless, he's vested in the life of the wanderer, who acquires tasks in taverns--no shit! (71 & 122)--to visit places never before described. The first such task involves a fairly trite and hyper-powered quest for a Super Book of some sort or another.
I get that these types of occurrences are features, instead of bugs, when it comes to sword & sorcery--but what is more or less unforgiveable in this installment is that Elric's prior war against memory is largely left aside, and instead he becomes a fucking fundamentalist, wondering if the Super Book will tell him whether "an ultimate God exists" (77). He seeks "the comfort of a benign God" (id.). FFS. (There is later acknowledgement that "he failed to forget Cymoril" (127)--indicating that the series may not be completely hopeless.)
After a number of trivial and tedious encounters, he and his new companions discover the Super Book, which "throbbed with light and brilliant color" (110), and then "disintegrated" into "yellowish dust" (110-11). Failed quests in heroic fiction are good, of course. The companion, a "materialist," takes the gems that encrusted the destroyed book, "worth a fortune" (112)--apt commentary on volumes such as this, though they yellow into dust, worth a fortune in the publisher's hands.
Third act is even more forgettable, except that it suddenly begins referring to Elric as a wolf in various ways (118, 119, 122)--which apparently explains the title, but as that merely removes the lupine mystery one step, hardly constitutes dispositive explanation.
Recommended for eternal skeptics, priest-aristocrats, and tiny creatures in the palm of the jester of chaos.