The Guns of Avalon

by Roger Zelazny

Cover image

Series: Amber #2
Publisher: Avon
Copyright: 1972
Printing: August 1974
ISBN: 0-380-00083-0
Format: Mass market
Pages: 223

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This is the second book of the Amber series, and does have multiple references to the first, Nine Princes in Amber. I think it would be rather confusing without reading the previous book, which is unfortunate since it's in some respects a much better place to start.

Nine Princes in Amber introduced us to Corwin and his primary goal, and gave us a brief introduction to his family, but did little more than that. The Guns of Avalon puts us back in his first-person perspective shortly after the end of Nine Princes in Amber and handles it much better, at least in my opinion. It opens with a more personal journey and shows us more of Corwin's hopes and fears than the first novel, including some moments that provide real characterization (such as Corwin's return to his former house). Several of the unexplained motivation problems from the first book are addressed here, including (partly, at least) Corwin's attitude towards the people who live in Shadows. And while the plot this time has only a bit more meat, that bit of additional substance and flesh over the bones helped me considerably in caring about what Corwin is doing.

The Guns of Avalon also explores one of the best ideas of this series — Shadows and Corwin's ability to walk them — in more depth and with more satisfying twists. At the start (and from the title) I thought it may drift towards Arthurian, but other than a few hints at how Corwin's family may be entangled in such stories, it stays refreshingly new. I particularly liked how Corwin interacts with different worlds and echoes of worlds from the perspective of his personal history while the reader attempts to draw parallels with other stories, and Zelazny's writing allows both readings but doesn't go where the reader is expecting. The door is left open for the reader's interpretation to be out there somewhere in the maze of worlds that Corwin walks through, but Corwin never visits the world of reader expectations just because that's expected. This is a sign of a confident and daring writer, and I think it pays off.

This book also shows the Shadows as a fount of remarkable resources, and does so in several unique and satisfying ways. The title is literal in a way I wasn't expecting and quite liked. The way Corwin gathers resources to bargain for what he needs is also a very memorable image. Using Zelazny's infinite parallel world creation well without letting it overwhelm the story or make it irrelevant is quite difficult, and Zelazny manages well here.

The series does still have problems, at least for me. While Corwin is better fleshed-out here, and a bit more sympathetic, I still don't exactly like him and I still don't understand his core motivation. In a book that has a tight first-person perspective, this is a serious flaw; usually protagonist motivation is the least of the writer's problems in that format. The characters other than Corwin are also more skeletons or ideas than satisfying characters, apparently built around a small handful of ideas and an open invitation for the reader to fill in the rest. Sometimes this partly worked for me and provides some fun surprises, such as with the women Corwin meets here. Sometimes it had the same problem as Nine Princes in Amber: making the book feel more like an outline than a novel. Zelazny is always sparse, but Amber to this point goes a bit too far in that direction. But this book is more concrete, and does more showing rather than telling, than the previous book, so hopefully that trend will continue. At least The Guns of Avalon avoids the previous book's failing of deluging the character in more of Corwin's huge family than the plot warranted.

So far, this is still not good enough for me to read it on its own merits. I want deeper characters, more details, more showing and less telling, and deeper examination of motivations rather than aphorisms. But The Guns of Avalon shows the world-building and underlying series ideas to better advantage than Nine Princes in Amber, and it's good enough that I'll keep reading.

Followed by Sign of the Unicorn.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2011-10-16

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21