Friday, 17 February 2012

‘Black Petals’ – Michael Moorcock

And there I was thinking that being out of work would give me more time to read… How wrong I was, I’m actually busier than ever! Of course, some of the blame (for my slow reading) has to fall on the shoulders of ‘A Dance With Dragons’, a book where it feels that I’ve been reading it almost as long as it took GRRM to write it… Just a hundred and sixty pages to go until the end of that particular beast.
In the meantime then (and for the foreseeable future) you’ll be seeing a lot more reviews for short stories and novellas nestled amongst the reviews for longer pieces. This time round, it’s the turn of Michael Moorcock’s Elric adventure ‘Black Petals’ to step up to the stand and get a review. I’m not sure where this 2007 novella first appeared (I keep thinking ‘Weird Tales’ for some reason) but I came across it in the Elric collection ‘Swords and Roses’ (Del Rey, 2010); a book worth picking up in its own right.

The drugs that sustain Elric have run out and he doesn’t want to resort to the soul stealing ways of the black sword Stormbringer. Rumours abound of an ancient jungle city that may hold the cure he seeks, a magical flower known as the ‘Black Anenome’. It’s a long and dangerous road to get there though and Elric and Moonglum will find out that the cure may not be worth the price they will need to pay…

Elric’s story span it’s course years ago now but there is still plenty of room in the barrative where gaps can be filled and further stories told. A good example of this is the Elric tale ‘Red Pearls’ in the ‘Swords and Dark Magic’ anthology. Should any further tales be told though? When I briefly reviewed ‘Red Pearls’ I said that the story lost a whole load of tension as we already knew Elric’s ultimate fate. You could argue that’s the whole point of Elric’s tale, whichever one of the many that you read (whether for the first time or not). Elric is doomed from the outset and he can’t escape that, doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.
An unfortunate affect of that literary approach though is that you essentially get the same story retold, if you’re unlucky, and that’s what happens here with ‘Black Petals’. Elric has the possibility of a cure for his condition but is fated to just miss out. It’s a story that has been told before and if you’re not a die-hard fan then this might just be an issue for you if you’ve read any other of these tales.

But is it a tale that has been told before…? Yes and no…

Moorcock does do what he does best here; a ancient ruined city that promises treasure, an engaging partnership between the two leads and a fearsome monster to be defeated. There are surprises in store here (I think Arioch was hiding in plain sight…) and some suitably grotesque imagery that typifies the kind of things that Elric faces on an almost daily basis. The Black Anenome is very much on a par with Moorcock’s Hungry Whisperers as far as I’m concerned. I found myself having to read ‘Black Petals’ even though I’d read the basic plot before.

What Moorcock does bring fresh to the table though is a change in pace that is refreshing. Earlier tales of Elric are frantic but ‘Black Petals’ is almost languid to begin with (although it speeds up just when it needs to) and this gives us a chance to better explore Elric’s world. This was a move that really paid dividends for me as Moorcock’s Young Kingdoms were always tantalisingly just out of reach in terms of further exploration. You even get a chance to listen in on debates over forms of government and public bodies; there is a world beyond what is immediately happening to Elric.

‘Black Petals’ is an odd one then. You may feel like you’ve read it before and you’d be right. Stick with it though and there is a lot more going on under the surface that makes ‘Black Petals’ a tale far too easy to get drawn into.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

No comments: