And Then I Read: VON BEK by Michael Moorcock


© Michael Moorcock, cover art by Janet Aulisio Dannheisen.

I’ve now completed this Moorcock omnibus, volume 2 in his “Eternal Champion” saga, as collected by White Wolf. I’ve already reviewed the first two Von Bek novels inside, The War Hound and the World’s Pain, and A City in the Autumn Stars.

The third novel is “The Dragon in the Sword,” and while most of it takes place in an elaborate fantasy setting with multiple worlds, the main characters are from our Earth in a fairly modern time. The viewpoint character is not a member of the Von Bek family this time, but Moorcock’s “Eternal Champion,” here calling himself John Daker, but acknowledging many other roles and names, including that of Elric, probably Moorcock’s best-known version of the character. Ulrich von Bek plays a sidekick role throughout the book, and he comes from Germany in our world, or one much like it, during the time the Nazis are in power. The two men meet in the Middle Marches, Moorcock’s name for a variety of fantasy realms and other dimensions connected to our own by diffcult to find gateways, and resembling our world in varying degrees, though most seem to have magic and godlike beings or talking animals at least.

Daker and von Bek form a partnership against a hostile world, fighting off attacks from the first humans they meet, until gaining the deck of a huge ship that sails/travels the endless marshes of the world they’ve found themselves in, one of six joined worlds. Daker is recognized as a famous person on this world, Prince Flamadin, apparently another persona of the Eternal Champion, and does not dispute the claim. Important people on the six worlds are gathering for a massive meeting/celebration at a place where the six worlds can occasionally join together. They are soon embroiled in all kinds of politics and intrigue at this meeting, where Flamadin is denounced as a murderer. His sister (or Flamadin’s sister, it gets complicated) is out to become the despotic ruler of the entire six worlds by aligning herself with a prince of Chaos. Flamadin and von Bek, and their allies begin a desperate quest for a magic sword that is the only thing which can stop her. The sword lies deep within Chaos itself.

While I did enjoy the action and creative world-building of this novel, I have to say I don’t like the narrator/viewpoint character as much as the other books. Daker/Flamadin/Elric and on and on is a glum and often depressed character forever mooning about his lost love. Von Bek is more to my liking, I would have preferred him as the narrator. The sword they seek seems to be the same one that Elric used, but at a different place in the saga, not yet the deadly absorber of souls. The other characters in the story are entertaining, including an Amazonian race of warrior women and a group of intelligent bears. The villainess and her many allies are effective foes. The quest itself is well done.

There’s also a short story rounding out the book, “The Pleasure Garden of Felipe Sagittarius,” which is a noir detective murder mystery in brief, full of characters that we know from Adolf Hitler to Albert Einstein, but all playing different roles than in our world. Not a bad story, but the character identification game kind of distracts from the plot.

In all I enjoyed this book and would recommend it. I have to admit it hasn’t convinced me I need to read a lot more of the “Eternal Champion” saga any time soon, but I might try more eventually.

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