And so continue the misadventures and quest of Corwin, Prince of Amber.
It’s hard to pinpoint the main plot of this book, as it really just serves as a setup for the next novel in the series. It has several straggling, loose side-stories that barely keep interest and at times even come off as cheap attempts to force the story along or introduce more characters. I’ll try anyway.
In The Guns of Avalon, Corwin has resolved to take on Eric (and Eric’s claim to the throne) once more. He travels through shadow and has a chance, and ultimately unimportant, meeting with a knight named Lancelot (I know). He saves this knight from some hellcats, creatures who have emerged from what comes to be known as The Black Road, a direct consequence of Corwin’s curse from Book One. (*in case you don’t remember, the Princes of Amber have the ability to cast immensely powerful curses when they are killed–Corwin’s curse stuck, despite the fact that he didn’t die, likely because of the intense pain of his temporary blinding. Or I could just be making excuses in the hopes that I’m right.)
After saving Lancelot, Corwin is taken to the town of Lorraine, where he meets a man he once banished, Ganelon. Ganelon is perhaps my favorite character in the entire novel, and likely the only reason I gave this two stars, despite the fact, for the most part, Ganelon’s presence in scenes is trivial at best.
There is also a side-plot with Corwin meeting a girl. It isn’t worth mentioning. It’s only apparent purpose for this book was to reassert that Corwin is a lover and a fighter, but as of yet, the women from The Great Book of Amber are thinner than Bond girls, and that’s saying a lot. The quasi-believable Dara is just another example, and unfortunately, we are forced to pay attention to her.
From there the plot devolves, flirting between giving us an antagonist or a real conflict, or not, all while Corwin works to bring firearms into the country of Amber, so that he can massacre Eric’s forces en masse. Gunpowder doesn’t ignite in Amber, but after thousands of centuries, Corwin alone has stumbled across one substance that does burn in the shadow-less city–on accident, and prepares to have guns crafted in our (Earth) reality to fit the bill.
This is basically all that happens in the book, sans ending, which I won’t spoil here, but was very, very disappointed by. The majority of the book spends its time discussing shadow walking, while scarcely building on any of the threads of the first book, and lamely concluding those it did touch on. Benedict, the brother “to be feared above all others”, finally makes his appearance, but his actions did not run parallel to his reputation, even though I found him interesting.
The book, as a piece of fiction, lacks a great deal in motivations; giving crucial elements in situations based solely on chance; and Zelazny’s tendency to fumble by placing his well-crafted and intriguing characters in unbelievable contexts, while stripping them of all their reactions to the world of chaos around them. I find Corwin’s narrative less and less believable as the books go on, and the magical system’s rules, as defined in the first book, crafted merely for convenience. As an example, Corwin, now, among all of his other invincible skills and knowledge, now has a touch of “the sight”, or an ability to guess at the future. Not that he ever uses it. He also experiences literally no setbacks to achieving his goal in this book. None.
As another example, Ganelon, who shows true fear at walking through the shadows, having only lived in two worlds over his extended life (both resembling the other), is able to perfectly adapt to suddenly being in modern Switzerland and fronting as a German tourist with a camera around his neck. So much was lost there, I felt, to brush the character over for more innane passages of sky colors and ground formations.
Despite all of the rant above (yeah, I guess I’m a bit incensed), Zelazny still has great technical skills, and every so often can turn a lovely phrase. I took to collecting them, since there was little else I enjoyed in Book Two:
“I was as hard as stone, dark as soil, and mean as hell once more.”
“[Our father] tolerated us, I feel, as occasionally inevitable consequences of passion.”
(On Ganelon): “An unusual mixture of clay and gold, this man.”
(And an example of some of the absurdity in the book): “Behold your nemesis!”
I have the omnibus, so I feel I should try one more, especially given its popularity and regard in the SF&F community, but would I recommend it? No. Despite the amazing premise, cool magical system, and wicked frames for characters, it’s just that, so far… A frame. There is nothing substantial inside it.