Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Guns of Avalon

Ever since I was a kid, I enjoyed reading Roger Zelazny. Back in those days, there were a couple of books, but the one I remember most was To Die in Italbar. I read it at least three times, and I have it on the shelf behind me to re-read as an adult. I’ve read a few of his short stories, read his award-winning Lord of Light and This Immortal. This book, The Guns of Avalon, has been sitting behind me for over four years before I cracked it. And once I did, I couldn’t put it down. Naturally.

I found it in a used book store and almost didn’t buy it, it being the second of a four or five book series. Normally I don’t like starting any series of books except at the beginning. I carried it around the store with me, weighing my indecision, and finally bought it. The ninety-nine cent price tag was the deciding factor. Brought it home, put it on the on-deck shelf, where it sat for four-and-a-half years.

Oh, I tried it two or three years ago. On the long drive down to Hilton Head, South Carolina. While the toddlers were sleeping and the wife was taking her turn behind the wheel, I opened the book and read a few pages. It seemed horribly banal and amateurish, and, shocked, I put it down in favor of some sight-seeing.

The question I know ask myself is, what was that book I attempted to read?

Because a week ago I read the opening lines of The Guns of Avalon and simply had to find out how it ended. What a great, pleasant read! A pageturner in the best sense of that word!

Normally I’m quite wary of these sword ’n’ sorcery tales. Only one – and I mean, only one – was done the right way, and that was the first one, Tolkien’s masterpiece. What elevates this story is that it’s chock-full of Zelaznian characters. It also reminded me lots of George R. R. Martin’s epic Song of Fire and Ice novels (themselves a fantasized version more like the War of the Roses than the Arthurian legends). The Guns of Avalon had elements of Martin and Tolkien in it for me. Picture it as a Cliff Notes version of the Song of Fire and Ice, if that series focused on a family of Tolkien elves well-versed in Nietzsche. Or even better, it was much like a fleshed-out version of a Michael Moorcock novel – except written by a writer who knows how to give characters multi-dimensional character.

It’s a tough novel to summarize. Remember, it’s book two of five, so you’re immediately thrust into the action. But to back up, the tale takes place – now, or millennia ago, or nevermore, because we follow a family of immortals who are able to negotiate a multiverse of parallel universes, all independent of time. They can even manipulate and create universes for themselves, in additional to hopping back and forth between well-known worlds. We follow Corwin, one of the younger brothers, who had been blinded and imprisoned by an older sibling who usurped their father’s throne. Now Corwin’s escaped, and he’s out for vengeance. Meets up with men who wanted to kill him but don’t recognize him, wins their respect, then their allegiance. Battles demons, zombies, mythical creatures, mysterious women, the “black road” holding the multiverse together – and his own brothers. Gets within reaching distance of the crown he believes rightfully his, and then –

Well, there are three more books to read to find out what finally happens.

Think I’ll put them on the Acquisitions List for my next foray into the dusty underworld of the used book scene.

Grade: solid A.

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