No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Saturday, January 01, 2000

Lord Demon -- Roger Zelazny and Jane Lindskold

Lord Demon is the second of two novels, unfinished by Zelazny at his death in 1995, to have been completed by Jane Lindskold. As with Donnerjack (1997), Lindskold's influence is easily detected: it's unfair to judge Lord Demon as simply another book by Zelazny, or to assume that this is the novel Zelazny would have completed, alone, if he’d lived.

The background is vintage Zelazny, with a cast and setting borrowed wholesale from mythology and given an SFnal interpretation. The characters in Lord Demon are demons and gods from Chinese myth. Except, of course, they’re not really demons and gods: they’re beings from another dimension. After a war between chaotic and lawful factions some millennia ago, the losing side broke through into ancient China and fitted themselves seamlessly into the local belief system.

The narrator, ‘Lord Demon’ himself, is Kai Wren, a master craftsman who specialises in magical bottles containing pocket universes for the magically-aware to call home. Kai Wren is also known as Godslayer: in the war, he was the only demon to have single-handedly slain a god. Now he’s peace-loving and solitary, avoiding the company of other demons and confiding only in his human servant, Oliver O’Keefe.

One night, Ollie is killed, and the quest to find his murderer opens up a series of mysteries. Kai Wren acquires a human apprentice, Li Paio, and ventures back into demon society, embroiling himself in a series of feuds and alliances. Unfortunately, he learns the identity of one enemy just too late to avoid being transformed into a mere human …

If parts of that plot summary are reminiscent of Zelazny’s classic Amber series, maybe it’s no accident. There’s a number of Amberesque plot elements, and one very obvious reference to Nine Princes in Amber that’s almost enough to make one suspect the author - which author? - of archness.

Kai Wren, however, isn’t a typical Zelazny hero. He makes mistakes, and is forced to rely on others: he has romantic, rather than merely lustful, inclinations: and he’s much less egocentric and arrogant. In short, he’s more human than most of Zelazny’s protagonists.

Maybe it’s an indication that Zelazny himself was moving into a different, more mature phase as a writer: it seems more likely, though, to be Lindskold’s influence, overlaying Zelazny’s plot and characters with themes and motifs of her own. There are elements of this novel which aren’t classic Zelazny: animated coathangers, the land of lost socks, and a cute puppy called Fluffinella. But reading Lord Demon as classic Zelazny is rather missing the point: it’s a joint work, and perhaps the saddest thing about it is that it’s not a true collaboration.