With The Guns of Avalon, Roger Zelazny creates his second installment in his fantasy series, The Amber Chronicles. The main character, Corwin is still a tobacco-smoking muscled sumbitch, but I’ll be darned if the guy isn’t growing on me by inches. He doesn’t say “dig” anymore, which I didn’t dig. This helps.
Corwin lived and ruled in Avalon, a shadow world, until a duel with his brother Eric left him incapacitated. Centuries later, the battle with Eric continues. At the moment of his supposed destruction, he unleashes a curse on Amber. Corwin has been imprisoned for five years in the dungeons of Amber. He escapes and plots his revenge, only to discover his own curse horrifyingly present in the world.
Zelazny’s work borrows from Arthurian tradition, and from the medieval French chansons de geste as he develops his characters. Those introduced to the Chronicles include his brother the warmaster Benedict (who is now the Protector of shadow-Avalon); and his exiled former councilor named Ganelon, now much older, and much changed. Two love interests, Lorraine the prophetess, and the mysterious Dara, provide romantic distraction and not a little confusion for Corwin.
The concept of the shadow world of the Platonic forms still provides the force of Zelazny’s theory of magic behind The Chronicles. It is a fascinating thought: if a person could manipulate the shadows, isn’t that what we mere mortals would consider “magic”? Ganelon refers to Corwin as a sorcerer and a devil, and a god, probably for good reason. The Amberites (the name given Corwin and his siblings) still communicate, and occasionally move through the universe, using a deck of Tarot cards, presumably drawn by an insane old man called Dworkin.
The writing is solid, with a few descriptive passages that stand out as truly excellent. The book is not embarrassing, as I found moments of his Nine Princes in Amber; still, it is a boilerplate fantasy novel with stock characters, and doesn’t rise exceptionally above the genre in any way. I keep hoping for that moment of transcendence in Zelazny’s writing. Guns of Avalon has me curious enough about the story read more, but still hoping for greater character development. I will continue to the third novel of the Chronicles, Sign of the Unicorn just for kicks, and let you know what I think.