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

Monday, March 26, 2007

REREAD: Jack of Shadows -- Roger Zelazny

This novel (published in 1971) just might be the fount of my fascination with criminals named Jack.

I'd forgotten how good this was -- especially for its time. The world on which it's set doesn't rotate: there are massive forcefields protecting the dayside, with a civilisation remarkably like our own, while on the darkside magic works, individuals are reincarnated and there are more feuds, vendettae and backstabbings than a barrelful of Borgias. All the darksiders are keen to rediscover 'Kolwynia, the Key that was Lost'. Jonathan Shade (dayside persona of infamous thief Jack of Shadows) has something that none of them have, though -- access to a newfangled dayside invention, a supercomputer ...

Jack is swashbuckling, romantickal and probably good-looking -- which goes with the territory -- and if that were all, it'd be an entertaining read. But there's a deal of philosophy in here, and the decisions that Jack has to make read quite differently to me now than they did in my teens.

Love the open ending, too.

edit: and am goggling at the Amazon Marketplace prices ...*clutches book fiercely to s(h)elf*

REREAD: Jack Maggs -- Peter Carey

It was too soon to read this novel: I still remember most of the plot, and have a feel for the style, so neither can surprise me. But I did enjoy the reread -- and was able to appreciate the story as a whole. (Rivers, streams, gutters, mudlarks ...)

REREAD: A Night in the Lonesome October -- Roger Zelazny

It's years since I read this, the final novel that Zelazny published before his death in 1995, and I suspect I only skimmed when I first acquired it. I certainly don't remember it being as witty, entertaining and sly as I found it this time! And there is so much more going on than is actually told....

Technically, this is a 'talking animal' book: the protagonist, Snuff, is a watchdog -- which he likes much better than what he was before -- and also a kind of familiar, a calculator, who assists his master (Jack, no surname, well-known for his Knife) in certain magical undertakings, and keeps an eye on assorted bound creatures (the Thing in the Mirror, the Thing in the Trunk etc). Jack, it turns out, is a player in an ancient Game which is played out in those years when there's a full moon on the night of Halloween. October is a busy time for Jack and Snuff, and for the other players: Crazy Jill and her familiar Greymalk; the Count in his coffin, and Needle the bat; Rastov the mad monk and Quicklime the snake; the Doctor; the Great Detective and his trusty sidekick; Larry Talbot with his keen eye for Snuff's nature; a Druid with an Owl; and a sloppy pair of occultists who appear unencumbered by non-human assistants.

Aim of the game? To bring about the return of the Great Old Ones -- or not. The Openers want to open the gate and bring back Shub-Niggurath and his / her / its friends. The Closers are innately conservative, in that they don't wish to be enslaved or destroyed or munched upon. Part of the fun is working out who's an Opener and who's a Closer: part, at least on first reading, is working out the origin of each character. Jack's clearly based on Jack the Ripper, and there are references to him carrying around dripping packages; but he doesn't seem to be any kind of misogynistic mass murderer, and on the one occasion he's violent (as a result of a curse) it's to save Snuff. The Great Detective, meanwhile, creeps around in cunning disguises -- but it's not much use dressing up as a woman when Jack's watchdog already has your scent.

Most of the novel's set in or near London, in the late 19th century, though one episode occurs in a dream-world strongly reminiscent of Lovecraft's Kadath. The outcome's unexpected, the detail delightful, and a rich tapestry of backstory's lightly sketched -- the witch in Dijon who distracted Jack, the Indian village destroyed by the Plague, that time in Alexandria ...

REREADS: Dilvish, the Damned / The Changing Land -- Roger Zelazny

Zelazny's position (at the bottom of the bookshelf nearest the door) made him an easy target for rereading -- and he used to be my very favourite author, which is why for a long time I was a Zelazny completist.

These, however, just weren't that good.

Dilvish, an Elven Lord who has spent two centuries in Hell as a result of interrupting a sorcerer, is a humorless and not especially likeable character (though v. noble, handsome, kind to animals etc etc.) His mount, Black (a demon in disguise) is rather more interesting. And some elements of the plot are fun, though to be honest I'd rather reread the Amber series (both of 'em!) yet again than reread these. Zelazny's usual verve and vigour weren't in evidence, and there was a mechanical feel about the progression of plot in both books.

Off to BookMooch they have gone!

REREAD: The Cockatrice Boys -- Joan Aiken

I remembered this as being an icy-scary tale set in a future England overrun by monsters a tentacle's-breadth from being demons. I remembered some truly nasty undertones -- more implicit than explicit -- and an inconclusive ending. There's cruelty to children, massive loss of life and the destruction of civilisation as we know it.

On rereading, I'd managed to forget just how much the female protagonist, Sauna, irritated me ...

REREAD: Children of God -- Mary Doria Russell

Reread, possibly for the first time. My vague recollection that it wasn't as good as The Sparrow was confirmed: I didn't feel that any of the new characters / points of view were as sympathetic, as sheerly likeable as the characters in the first novel. There's still wit, and excellent dialogue, and harrowing events -- Russell is never gentle on her characters, I bet they hate her! -- and some interesting insights into the alien society that, in the previous novel, was shown almost entirely from the outside.

I wish she'd write another SF novel ...