The Guns of Avalon by Roger Zelazny
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the second book in the Chronicles of Amber, a classic series I'd never gotten around to reading. After the first book, I thought I might not be missing out on much. This book, though, goes a long way toward explaining the series' endurance.
The first book mostly set up the world of Amber and introduced us to it. This one has Corwin moving around in it of his own volition in ways I could understand. He's determined to bring down his brother, Eric, who's crowned himself king of Amber in their father's absence. He goes to Avalon, a domain he once ruled over, sort of, seeking a substance that'll work as gunpowder in Amber. His brother Benedict is there, and Corwin decides not to enlist him as an ally, as there are signs he's working with at least three of his other brothers, two of whom are no friends of Corwin's.
All the realms, meanwhile, are marred by a touch of Chaos because of a curse Corwin threw at Eric. He confronts it in one realm, then it goes after Amber, itself, while Corwin is mustering his forces against Eric. His brothers ask him to hold back from attacking, because Amber's already in rough shape, but Corwin sees it as the perfect opportunity.
There are places where the narrative is hard to follow, and that may be on purpose. Crossing through Shadow, which is what Corwin and his brothers call the realms that aren't as "real" as Amber, is a jumble of sensations and sights. Perhaps the reader is supposed to feel lost. In which case, good job, Zelazny.
The narrative has very little room for diversity. The female characters who get any attention are prospective partners for Corwin, and the book taps into non-human races before it describes anyone dark-skinned. One would think that, if grass can be purple, an Arthurian legend-type setting might have nonwhite people.
Overall, though, I did enjoy this book a lot more than the previous one. It did not end the way I expected at all. I expected the brothers' rivalry to fill at least the rest of the Corwin Cycle, as I understand the first five books are called. This made me want to keep reading. It did a much better job integrating the idea of parallel realities, where all fantastical stories really can be true.
I listened to this book on audio, narrated by Alessandro Juliani. The narrator has a deep, "man's man" sort of voice, which fits with how Corwin tells his tale. He speaks clearly and distinctly, and makes the characters sound different enough to distinguish them. Some of the accents are a curious choice, but they make sense within the narrative.
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