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Title: The Queen of the Swords
Series: Eternal Champion: Corum #2
Author: Michael Moorcock
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
On another five planes, the forces of Chaos – led by Xiombarg, Queen of the Swords – reign supreme and are on the verge on eradicating the last resistance from the forces of Law. The avatars of the Bear and Dog gods plot with Earl Glandyth-a-Krae to murder Corum and return Arioch to the Fifteen Planes. Guided by Arkyn, Corum, Rhalina and companion Jhary-a-Conel cross the planes and encounter the King Without A Country, the last of his people who in turn is seeking the City in the Pyramid. The group locate the City, which is in fact a floating arsenal powered by advanced technology and inhabited by a people originally from Corum’s world and his distant kin.
Besieged by the forces of Chaos, the City requires certain rare minerals to continue to power their weapons. Corum and Jhary attempt to locate the minerals and also encounter Xiombarg, who learns of Corum’s identity. Corum slows Xiombarg’s forces by defeating their leader, Prince Gaynor the Damned. Xiombarg is goaded into attacking the City directly in revenge for Arioch’s banishment. Arkyn provides the minerals and confronts Xiombarg, who has manifested in a vulnerable state. As Arkyn banishes Xiombarg, Corum and his allies devastate the forces of Chaos. Glandyth-a-Krae, however, escapes and seeks revenge.
In the planes over which she rules, Xiombarg—a Greater God and one of the Lords of Chaos, known as the “Queen of the Swords”—is winning the battle against the humanoid inhabitants. She continues the fight in Corum’s plane, sending Prince Gaynor the Damned to direct the barbarian armies.
Corum, with Jhary-a-Conel and Rhalina, crosses the planes and find a world claimed by Chaos with plains of dried blood and other outlandish geography. They meet the King Without A Country, the last of his people who is seeking the City in the Pyramid. They find the city which turns out to be a floating one that originated in Corums own world – and the inhabitants are his kin. The city is under intermittent attack and for the moment its superior technology defends it. It could return to Corum’s world but needs special minerals to provide sufficient energy. They are able to send Corum and his companions back to seek the minerals in his own world. There he finds the last human city under threat from a monstrous army of barbarians and chaos allies. He seeks out Gaynor and defeats him in single combat. With Gaynor banished the barbarian armies are largely leaderless but still a terrible threat. Arkyn, a lord of law, supplies the materials needed and they are sent back to Xiombarg’s worlds. At the same time the barbarian armies crash against the last city standing. At the last moment the Sky city comes between the planes to help the defenders. Driven by anger Xiombarg follows the Floating city through the rift between the planes. This is in violation of the Cosmic Balance and the balance sends her back and restores Donblas, Arkyn’s brother lord of law. The sky ships of the City destroy the barbarian armies with their wondrous weapons.
In many ways, I think the success of this book is because of its contrast with the Elric books. Elric is also an aspect of the Eternal Champion, but he is fighting on the side of Chaos. In fact, his patron is Arioch, the Prince of Swords, whom Corum killed in the previous book. Corum is fighting for Law but there are several times where he and Elric team up together as a greater aspect of the Eternal Champion, thus they are on the same side. That dichotomy is fun to read about but Moorcock doesn’t make it a point here, you have to have read his other stories for it to actually be seen.
The other fun thing is seeing how each eternal warrior views the other side. In Elric, he at one point goes to a world completely governed by Law. It is presented as a dead and static world with nothing alive, just monuments that last forever. In this book, Corum goes to a world completely run by Chaos and it is simply random destruction and presented as untenable for a stable mind. In both worlds, in both stories, each respective Lord of Chaos/Law lectures their Champion about the dangers of untrammeled Other. Chaos warns Elric of Law freezing the universe into a static perfection and Arkyn warns Corum about the entropy of Chaos which will lead to ultimate destruction.
This is also where the Companion is introduced. The Eternal Champion usually has a companion to help him and said companion is as eternal as the Champion. But where the Champion doesn’t remember his other aspects, the Companion sometimes does and this allows him to be of great use. But his end is usually as sad as the Champions. Jhary-a-Conel is as much a plot device as a real character but is nonetheless integral to the story. In many ways, he’s more fleshed out than Corum’s human love interest, but once you start reading more Eternal Warrior stories and see what happens to the Companion, you also realize what a completely melancholic character he has to be. So there’s almost no point in fleshing him out because you know he’s going to disappear into the next realm at some point (the best scenario) or he’s going to die horribly and be reincarnated again. Poor guy.
This is just as good this time as the previous time I read these. I think Corum really is one of Moorcock’s best creations and I sure hope the rest of the series holds up as well.