Dying empire presented with two means of resuscitation: irredentist aggression or contemplative isolationism, each represented, somewhat reductively, by the principal antagonist and protagonist. Their agon includes a series of coups and counter-coups, and results in a bizarre duel with sentient nuclear-swords on the wrong side of the last sphincter in hell's colon.
The protagonist has the repuation of being an anti-hero, and he lives up to it, as "his desire was not to reform Melnibone but to reform himself" (30), which I suppose means the quest, if there is one here, is not to change the Evil Empire but merely for Elric, who "debates moral issues" (4) and "neither thinks nor acts in accordance with their conception of how a true Melnibonean should think and act" (5), to become the proper Evil Emperor. He employs torturers and feels "no sympathy" for torture victims, even juveniles (28). He relies on slave labor (21, 49, ff.). He orders an enemy tortured and fed to another enemy for his entertainment (73).
Elric's not the villain, if only because his antagonist is categorically worse than him, basically a fascist, concerned with "our great race," "that race's pride," "our nation's soul" (12)--though I'm still not sure if the "race" in question is meant to be human or not--as well as "the blood of our house diluted" (13). It's an ugly mix of race theory and feudal "blood" ideology (a cipher for property to some extent). The antagonist would "attack their nations and burn their cities" (33) in response to piracy, "conquer them and ensure our security." It's very Roman, I suppose.
The only people worthy of our sympathy in the story are the "poverty-stricken peasants," "barely a nation at all," "not a potential soldier among them," (107), or those purported pirates who seek to destroy Melnibone because "you offer us harm by your very presence," with sorcery, customs, and arrogance (42). Can't say I disagree with him, even if the proposed remedy is overdoing it.
Lotsa silly interaction with deities, including some deus ex machina moments. Partakes of the aristocrat protagonist convention. Very pulpy. Not sure why the protagonist need be a disabled albino. Text is haunted by the specter of brother-sister incest (and incest-rape) on the throne, which should be familiar enough to readers of Martin.
Comical that, when in a bind, Elric "sent his mind into twisting tunnels of logic, across endless plains of ideas, through mountains of symbolism and endless universes of alternate truths" (81), which is, apparently, the way to summon demons. I'm gonna keep that process handy next time I get a flat tire.
I realize that the writer is something of an anarchist, so this critical presentation of hideous aristocrats and inherited political power makes some sense; we are not reading an Epic Pooh here, and the author's criticisms of the genre are well-founded. That said, the aesthetics of this particular effort could've been more delicate, and the narrative development could've been handled more patiently.
There are some concepts otherwise interesting. One numinous object, the Mirror of Memory, "contains many memories, some of which have been imprisoned for thousands of years" (85), and is used as a weapon by the antagonist. When that mirror is later broken and the stolen memories are released, they "warred for a place in Elric's skull" (129) and compelled others to rip out their own eyes and bash their own brains out (130). Memory is definitely a Bad Thing in this setting--apparently the burden of past crimes is too great, and maybe that's the reason that, while Elric's "knowledge of the world beyond the shores of Melnibone is profound" (5), it is also drawn from books, and therefore reviled. During the underworld scenes (which are reminiscent of Leguin's underworld scenes in Earthsea), we meet also Elric's sidekick, an archer-priest, genuinely cool, "the inheritor of all [his sect's] knowledge," who refused it and went to exile (141). Another character in the underworld is a guy "Who Knew All" and who is tasked to forget everything before he is liberated from the underworld (151). Hell is not other people, but is rather remembering what a fucking scumbag murderer aristocrat you are, I guess.
Recommended for crude shamans from the steppe, persons with regressive rather than deficient blood, and those who oust themselves.