I became a fan of Roger Zelazny a couple of years ago when I read his science fiction novel Damnation Alley, a road trip thriller set in a post apocalypse America. While it was a fun, escapist read, something of a guilty pleasure, it was also a very well-written book. Not what I expected in an old paperback I found at the used bookstore.
Mr. Zelazny was a powerhouse writer in his day, publishing over 30 novels in his lifetime. The exact count depends on how you define novel and on how you count collaborations. Add his short stories to this and you see a man who spent a lot of time writing.
So maybe The Guns of Avalon was just an off-day-novel or maybe it was me, but I didn’t have as much fun with it as I’ve had with his other books.
The story picks up right where the first novel left off, as Corwin, Crown Prince of Amber, journeys back through the Shadow to Amber where he hopes to force his brother off of the throne that should be his. However, Amber is under attack, an attack so serious that it might destroy the city. Will Corwin risk the city’s destruction to win back his throne?
Pretty standard fare for a fantasy novel from the 1970’s.
What makes the Amber books fun is how the Shadow allows the princes of Amber to travel to other places, times, dimensions including our own time. This means the narrator, Prince Corwin, can speak in a modern American idiom which gives the books a sense of humor other fantasy epics lack.
But Corwin is not exactly a hero I can really root for this time around. The princes of Amber are sort of god-like characters, with powers beyond human. Is it magic or a supernatural element, Mr. Zelazny doesn’t really explain. He’s more interested in action than he is in world building. The princes remind me of the characters in Octavia Butlers Xenogenesis trilogy, set in a future where some people had evolved to a state beyond human. They were interesting books, but the characters were very difficult to root for.
In The Guns of Avalon Corwin’s quest for power leaves behind a trail of bodies that was a little too much for me, even in a fantasy book of an escapist nature. (It’s one reason why I don’t watch Game of Thrones. I don’t care who wins the iron throne when all of the contenders deserve a to die a painful death. Down with monarchists!)
And The Guns of Avalon just felt a little too much like one thing after another. I had the feeling that Mr. Zelazny was throwing in new characters whenever the plot started to get a little slow. I’m not opposed to this–Charles Dickens, one of my favorite authors, was not above tossing in a random gypsy wagon in the middle of The Old Curiosity Shop when things got a little slow. When it’s working, it works, when it’s not, it doesn’t.
In The Guns of Avalon it just didn’t work for me.
I’ll probably read the remaining three novels in my omnibus edition. In spite of it all, I do want to find out what happens.
The Guns of Avalon counts as book number ten in the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge. Halfway through, baby!