2006 Book #1 - Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Roger Zelazny (1937-95) is now mostly remembered as the writer of the two Amber series of fantasy novels, a 10-novel sequence of action adventures that he first began in 1970. Yet things started out very differently for the author.

Zelazny published his first sf story in 1962, a year that was subsequently to gain something of a reputation as a watershed in sf publishing history. It was also the year that Samuel R. Delaney, Thomas M. Disch and Ursula K. Le Guin published their first work, and all were to be later credited with leading the US component of the sf new wave of the late sixties.

Zelazny's early work showed huge promise with "A Rose for Eccelsiastes" being nominated for a Hugo Award in 1964, and then "The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth" and "He Who Shapes" both winning in 1965: the first two of these are now considered classics of the genre. He followed these with Hugo Awards for Best Novel for This Immortal (aka ...And Call Me Conrad) in 1966, and for Lord of Light in 1968.

It is interesting to note that Zelazny only started to write full-time after 1969 at which point his style took on a more commercial aspect. The first of his Amber novels, Nine Princes in Amber, was published in 1970, being followed by the others in the sequence at regular intervals over the next twenty or so years. He was to win further Hugo and Nebula Awards for his shorter fiction in the 1980s and 1990s, but it is considered by most critics that he never again achieved the literary heights of those earlier celebrated works.

Jack of Shadows forms a bridge between the two sections of his career, between the predominantly sf and mainly fantasy portions. It combines aspects of both sub-genres as it tells the story of Jack who lives on a far-future earth; a world that has stopped rotating and on which the light side is ruled by science and the dark side by magic. It differs from his other fantasy work in that the main character is the antithesis of Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces, the hero he was to use again and again in the Amber series. Jack is a thief, a liar and a despot who finally succeeds in destroying all he loves and all he desires in his attempts to control the whole earth. There are echoes here of his earlier work in his use of mythological concepts in an sf setting, and previews of his later novels in his use of magic - not least the "Shadows" of the title.

Jack of Shadows is a fine fantasy that, from the distance of 35 years, reads like the last hurrah of a glittering sf career, and the first blast of a commercial fantasy one.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on January 12, 2006 10:06 AM.

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