science fiction and fantasy book reviewsThe King of the Swords by Michael Moorcock fantasy book reviewsThe King of the Swords by Michael Moorcock

This review includes spoilers for Books 1 and 2 in the CORUM series.

The King of the Swords (1971) wraps up the first of the two trilogies that make up the CORUM series. Between the end of this book and the start of the second trilogy in The Bull and the Spear, eighty years will pass. But The King of the Swords is a culmination of all the events set in motion in the first two books. The main event of The King of the Swords, of course, is Corum’s quest to defeat the King of the Swords, a Lord of Chaos who rules over the last five of the fifteen planes in this universe. Along the way, however, Corum must overcome other challenges, most of which seem more difficult than those he faced in his quests to defeat first the Knight and then the Queen of the Swords.

One challenge has to do with Corum’s quest for revenge against Man, the new race of beings known as Mabden. He has one man in particular with whom he wants to settle a score. At the beginning of the first book, The Knight of Swords, after they slaughter all of Corum’s race, the Mabden capture Corum. The leader of these violent Mabden, Glandyth-a-Krae, tortures our Eternal Champion by cutting off one hand and plucking out one eye. Luckily, Corum escapes before he is further tortured and finally killed. Corum, Moorcock tells us, is first taught the nature of revenge through Glandyth’s slaughter of his people, so other than his battle against the three Lords of Chaos in this trilogy, Corum has another quest: to seek out and defeat Glandyth. In each book, therefore, Corum faces Glandyth, but only in this final book is the story of their enmity brought to a definite close.

Another challenge has to do with Corum’s magical hand and eye, which were given to him by a sorcerer in The Knight of Swords. Corum quickly discovers these gifts have a dark side, though they do save his life on several occasions. Plus, the original sources of these gifts bring Corum problems: They come from two different gods — Kwll and Rhynn. They are the “lost gods,” which means they just might still be around and looking for what was taken from them. The culmination of this storyline is one of my favorites, particularly when we find out that Kwll and Rhynn are not as unfamiliar as we think they are.

My favorite part of this novel takes place in the Vanishing Tower. Corum cannot complete this part of his quest without help, and so he finds himself drawn to two other Eternal Champions: Elric and Erekose. There’s a lot of great dialogue between the three confused Eternal Champions as they join together to escape peril. It’s a fantastic scene. Certain readers will enjoy another layer of pleasure because this scene will seem familiar. Though I’m having trouble remembering which story it was (I think it was an Elric tale), I previously read this exact same scene, but from a different perspective. So, if you too have read a lot of Moorcock’s Eternal Champion books, you’ll find this part of the book both old and new.

This final book offers a satisfying end to the first CORUM trilogy, and like the previous two books, it can be read in less than three hours. As I’ve said before, the brevity of these novels, because of Michael Moorcock’s mastery of concise storytelling, does not diminish the rich, in-depth world-building. The King of the Swords is yet again another five-star novel by Moorcock.

Published in 1971. The old races have perished. Across the fifteen planes of reality, the ceaseless struggle between Law and Chaos continues. Corum, the Prince in the Scarlet Robe, has destroyed two of the company of Chaos, but Mabelode the Faceless will not see his actions go unpunished. The Eternal Champion must call upon the power of other incarnations—Elric, and Erekosë—and travel to the last five planes to defeat the King of the Swords. At stake: not only the balance of forces at the crux of existence, but also a personal vendetta, since the captain of the enemy army is the same Mabden who slaughtered Corum’s family…

Corum (Eternal Champion) — (1971-1974) The ancient races, the Vadhagh and the Nhadragh, are dying. By creating Mankind, the universe has condemned Earth to a pestilence of destruction and fear. Prince Corum is the last remaining Vadhagh. He sets out on a crusade of vengeance against the forces that slaughtered his family and his race, to challenge the unjust power of the puppet masters of Man: the Lords of Chaos. Along the way he will barter with his soul for the limbs of gods to repair his mutilated body, and will encounter a member of the very race who caused the mutilation, the irresistible Rhalina…

Corum - The Knight of The Swords: The Eternal Champion Corum - The Queen of The Swords: The Eternal Champion Corum - The King of Swords: The Eternal Champion Corum - The Bull and the Spear: The Eternal Champion Corum - The Oak and the Ram: The Eternal Champion Corum - The Sword and the Stallion: The Eternal Champion


  • Brad Hawley

    BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

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