This is a collection of the earliest short stories/novelettes about Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock. Elric is the emperor of Melnibone, the last emperor as he has no heir and succeeds in destroying the last of Melnibone's cities in an act of vengeance during the first short story. According to Melnibonean tradition, he's not very good at being a member of his race, which is less bloodthirsty and more carelessly selfish with perverse, and often bloody pleasures. He's also too much a part of Melnibone to fit in easily among humans, though eventually he almost does.
He carries a runesword called Stormbringer, sister sword to Mournblade. Both swords were forged by Chaos to destroy/reform the world as it was and can only be wielded by the royal line of Melnibone. Stormbringer, for most of the stories, keeps Elric alive by feeding him souls of the people it kills. He is a sorcerer, which takes a lot of strength out of him to begin with, but he is also sickly to the point of not being able to survive without magic, which is apparently part and parcel with being albino in this story.
Elric is something of a tragic hero in the end, but while I wouldn't quite consider him an anti-hero, he definitely began with a strong potential for that. He's too concerned with the balance of Law and Chaos and with redemption for me to call him an anti-hero. As a Melnibonean, he traditionally serves Chaos, but with Chaos trying to destroy the natural course of Fate and the world, he fights along side Law. Then again, with lots of help from magical items like the Chaos shield, his runesword, and a nifty horn, all of which try to kill him, he ends up assisting Law in the remodeling of the earth and the end of mankind as it is known at the time. So it's hard to classify him as the average hero either.
To put it bluntly, the writing was terrible. Granted, the writer at the time was young and inexperienced (as he himself admits), but that doesn't change much--think Eregon, bad is bad, doesn't matter how old the writer is. Grammatically it's painful. The dialogue is cliche, corny, and incredibly unbelievable while at the same time committing the dreadful crime of over-telling almost everything, and telling it poorly. There are holes in the weaving of each story big enough to drive a Mac truck through, but that may be in part because they're short stories and don't, by their nature, have the size to fill in those holes (but still).
That said, I kept reading and I will read more of his shorts in the future because Elric is an interesting character with an interesting story. (There was an unrelated short in the middle, and lots of commentary in this volume, but they were irrelevant and fairly obnoxious, so I'm not going there.) Especially as a younger character, prior to the angst that pulls him officially out of the badass anti-hero category and into the whiny hero category, Elric has a lot of draw for me. It's almost refreshing to watch him take out his anger by destroying an entire city, the city he grew up in. That just doesn't often happen in fantasy, unless it's done by a villain.
The general ideas of the stories, I thought, were intriguing. Kinda like Harry Potter, I like daydreaming in the stories rather than reading them. I know there's a draw for the tragic hero--the one who's life is just so messed up that it seems it'll be impossible for him to redeem himself. At the same time, if you're going to go all the way out on a limb and make the character half-evil, go all the way out there and stop his whining. Give him a pair and then give him the strength of character to deal with it. I really don't like my heroes, tragic or otherwise, complaining about their lot in life or their guilt or what-have-you. Just a personal opinion there.