Thu
Aug 8 2013 2:00pm
The Chronicles of Amber Reread: The Guns of Avalon

The Guns of Avalon Chronicles of Amber Roger Zelazny

The Amber reread continues with the second book in the series, The Guns of Avalon (at long last). Corwin of Amber picks up where we left him at the end of Nine Princes in Amber, and his ambitions haven’t really changed.

When last we left Corwin, Prince of Amber, he had escaped his brother Eric’s dungeons and had walked off into Shadow, declaring he would have his revenge. In Guns of Avalon, he puts that plan for revenge, and for claiming the throne of Amber, into action.

Corwin makes his way towards Avalon, a land he once knew that has been lost in Shadow. But Corwin has hope of finding it, for although infinite worlds lie in shadows, his Amber blood allows him to pass through them.

On his way, however, Corwin finds a wounded man on the side of the road who calls himself Lance, and is reminded of an older companion of his, Lancelot du Lac. Corwin carries the wounded man back to his commander, Ganelon—another name out of Corwin’s past. Corwin, still weak from his imprisonment, goes by the name Sir Corey of Cabra. Ganelon was one of his men in the real Avalon and, after a betrayal, Corwin exiled him through Shadow. Corwin recognizes that his man could very well be the same Ganelon, and so hopes to stay unrecognizable.

Corwin also learns that something called the Circle afflicts this land, a growing stain that belches forth demonic creatures and steals the life from the people of the land. Corwin is invited to stay with Ganelon and his men, so he uses the opportunity to train with them and regain his strength, though he fears that doing so will reveal who he is to Ganelon. Not only does Ganelon have cause to hate Corwin, but the people here remember his name—or the name of one of his shadows—and it is not loved.

The land is called Lorraine and Corwin meets a woman with the same name, a camp follower. At first they spend the night just talking, but eventually they become intimate. Lorraine has some magical abilities and one night as someone tries to contact Corwin via Trump (he resists), Lorraine sees an image of Corwin’s father, Oberon. Later they are attacked by a demon, a creature out of the Circle. These creatures seem to recognize Corwin—they call him “opener,” and he suspects the curse he laid in Nine Princes allowed them to come through the portal. Using his sword Grayswandir, Corwin dispatches the demons, but is disturbed by what he has faced.

Once he is recovered, Corwin rides with Ganelon and his men against the creatures. They enter the Circle and Corwin faces their leader—a goat-faced demon who names Corwin as the one who granted them passage. Corwin also discovers that they come from the Courts of Chaos. Corwin kills the leader, closing the way in Lorraine. By now Ganelon recognizes Corwin and begs to be taken to Amber. Corwin agrees. When he searches for Lorraine, he finds that she has run off with a soldier called Melkin. He rides after them and discovers Lorraine dead and robbed. Corwin pursues Melkin, kills him, and returns Lorraine’s things to her before burying her.

“I replaced her rings, her bracelets, her combs, before I closed the grave, and that was Lorraine. All that she had ever been or wanted to be had come to this, and that is the whole story of how we met and how we parted, Lorraine and I, in the land called Lorraine, and it is like onto my life, I guess, for a Prince of Amber is part and party to all the rottenness that is in the world, which is why whenever I do speak of my conscience, something else within me must answer, “Ha!” In the mirrors of the many judgments, my hands are the color of blood. I am a part of the evil that exists in the world and in Shadow. I sometime fancy myself an evil which exists to oppose other evils. I destroy Melkins when I find them, and on that Great Day of which prophets speak but in which they do not truly believe, on that day when the world is completely cleansed of evil, then I, too, will go down into darkness, swallowing curses. Perhaps even sooner than that, I now judge. But whatever... Until that time, I shall not wash my hands nor let them hang useless.”

Corwin’s real aim in finding Avalon soon becomes apparent: gunpowder doesn’t work in Amber, but years ago he discovered that jewelers rouge from Avalon could act as a suitable replacement. His plan is to obtain the rouge, then get arms manufacturers from our world to make it into ammunition. To pay for this, Corwin travels to a shadow world where South Africa was never mined and the diamonds simply lay on the sand.

In Avalon, though, they find armed troops who speak of a Protector. Corwin and Ganelon are taken to this Protector who turns out to be one of Corwin’s many brothers, Benedict. Benedict is pleased to see Corwin with his eyes back, partially because he has himself lost a hand. It seems that he sought after Corwin in Avalon and then decided to stick around. Even more troubling, Avalon recently faced something similar to the Circle in Lorraine—demonic hellmaids entered the realm through a cave. Benedict and his forces defeated them, but at the cost of Benedict’s arm.

Corwin tells Benedict what’s happened to him and Benedict takes it all in. He’s not interested in Amber’s succession. But he mentions that Oberon, their father, didn’t abdicate. Apparently he just disappeared altogether. Corwin and Benedict are wary with one another. Corwin doesn’t tell Benedict his real reason for coming to Avalon and Benedict doesn’t mention which Amberites he’s in contact with, something that Corwin watches out for when Benedict uses his Trump.

Benedict makes a country house available to Corwin and Ganelon and they go there to rest. From there, Corwin plans to collect his jeweler’s rouge and then beat a hasty retreat through Shadow. But at Benedict’s mansion he meets a young lady called Dara. She tells Corwin that she’s Benedict’s great-granddaughter.

She seems to know very little about Amber, and it’s clear from what she says that Benedict has kept her hidden away from the other Amberites, all except for Julian, Brand, and Gerard—who apparently came through to see Benedict not long ago. That Benedict has had recent contact with people from Amber bothers Corwin, so he plans to get things done as soon as possible.

Of course, Corwin takes the time to have a little picnic with Dara which includes a little bit of wine and which leads to a...dalliance. Corwin rationalizes it by saying that she’s not closely related to him, and she’s willing.

Before they leave, Ganelon finds two corpses buried near the mansion. Corwin doesn’t know what they’re about but they head off through Shadow before Benedict finds out what Corwin’s up to.

Along the ride through Shadow, they find a Black Road that cuts through it. Corwin can’t shift away from it. The Road cuts through every shadow. Everything inside of it is black and the grass there is tentacular, seizing Ganelon and draining the life from him. Corwin is able to destroy a portion of the Black Road by focusing on the image of the Pattern, holding it in his mind until it feels like his head is going to explode.

Corwin and Ganelon continue on, and Corwin closes his mind against an attempted Trump contact. He suspects it is from Benedict, and indeed a short while later they see Benedict pursuing them through Shadow on a horse. Corwin tries to shift Shadow to stop him, even causing a cave-in, but Benedict and his crazy alien horse manage to close the gap.

Corwin sends Ganelon ahead and waits to face Benedict near the Black Road. Corwin fears Benedict, even with only one good arm. When Benedict appears, Corwin tries to explain that Dara is an adult, but Benedict is having none of it. He calls Corwin “murderer,” which Corwin doesn’t understand. They duel and Corwin is forced to resort to a trick to win: he lures Benedict into the black grass where it takes hold of him and Corwin knocks him out. Then Corwin pulls Benedict out and uses a Trump to contact Gerard, the one relative that he trusts. He urges Gerard to come through and watch over Benedict until he awakens.

While there, Gerard mentions that the Black Road winds its way through shadow, from the Courts of Chaos to the foot of Mount Kolvir in Amber. Gerard also mentions that King Eric has been organizing forces to work against the creatures that have been coming out of the Black Road. Gerard urges Corwin not to try to invade.

Nevertheless, Corwin heads to our Shadow Earth to have his ammunition made and to purchase weapons. Corwin takes a small side trip to an old house in New York and finds a message from Eric asking for peace. Corwin rejects it out of hand. Once the weapons are ready, Corwin heads with Ganelon into Shadow to find the same creatures that he used in his first assault on Amber (with Bleys in Nine Princes in Amber). He trains them in the use of the modern weapons and prepares to invade Amber.

They travel through Shadow and arrive in Amber just in time to see it under attack from some powerful forces. They are forced to kill a few manticores and there are wyvern-riders, from the Courts of Chaos. Corwin’s love of Amber seemingly outweighs his hatred of Eric, and so Corwin joins his forces to Amber’s defense. In the middle of the battle, Dara appears, telling him she’ll see him in Amber.

When Corwin comes upon his brother, Eric is dying. He gives Corwin the Jewel of Judgment and uses his death curse on Amber’s enemies.

He gestured with his eyes. He pronounced it then, in a whisper, and I shuddered to overhear it.

Corwin takes over coordination of the battle and Trumps through to Benedict, giving him control of the riflemen and telling him of Dara’s presence. Benedict indicates that he knows no one named Dara and that Corwin has been deceived.

Corwin has Random Trump him through to the palace where he runs for the Pattern chamber. They arrive too late, though. They see Dara already completing the Pattern. She shifts in shape as she moves, a creature of chaos, not really a young girl at all. When she finishes walking it, she tells Corwin that “Amber will be destroyed.” Then she uses the power of the Pattern to transport herself elsewhere.

Commentary

The Amberites:

Corwin’s drive in this novel is the same as the last: he wants Amber. This time, he arguably has a better plan, but his personality change is even more evident here than it was in the last book. When Amber is threatened, he puts his conquest on hold and joins in her defense. I suspect the old Corwin would have treated Ganelon worse, and certainly wouldn’t agree to take him to Amber. But this one does.

Another Amberite we see change in this novel is Random. He only appears at the very end, but he tells Corwin that though he was forced to marry Vialle, he ended up falling in love with her. It seems his time spent in Corwin’s company was good for him.

We also are introduced to Benedict. The oldest of the surviving children of Oberon, Benedict is not interested in the succession (else he would claim the throne himself). But Corwin also fears him. He tells Ganelon,

“You do not really understand who it was we talked with in the tent that night. He may have seemed an ordinary man to you-a handicapped one, at that. But this is not so. I fear Benedict. He is unlike any other being in Shadow or reality. He is the Master of Arms for Amber. Can you conceive of a millennium? A thousand years? Several of them? Can you understand a man who, for almost every day of a lifetime like that, has spent some time dwelling with weapons, tactics, strategies? Because you see him in a tiny kingdom, commanding a small militia, with a well-pruned orchard in his back yard, do not be deceived. All that there is of military science thunders in his head. He has often journeyed from shadow to shadow, witnessing variation after variation on the same battle, with but slightly altered circumstances, in order to test his theories of warfare. He has commanded armies so vast that you could watch them march by day after day and see no end to the columns. Although he is inconvenienced by the loss of his arm, I would not wish to fight with him either with weapons or barehanded. It is fortunate that he has no designs upon the throne, or he would be occupying it right now. If he were, I believe that I would give up at this moment and pay him homage. I fear Benedict.”

I’ve always loved Benedict. He’s one of the most likable of Corwin’s kin, I think, and a complete bad-ass.

We also meet Gerard briefly. I always think of him as the kind Amberite; everyone seems to get along with him and Corwin seems to love him above all his other brothers. It’s he whom Corwin calls when he needs someone to take care of Benedict, and later when they are approaching Amber.

Finally, we get Dara, who will obviously become a more important character as the series continues. Is she really who she claims to be? The Pattern is apparently only something that the blood of Amber can traverse. It’s clear that her walking the Pattern and her relationship with Corwin will have lasting significance in the books.

Cosmology:

The Guns of Avalon continues the use of the Trumps and the Pattern without developing either too much, though it is shown that the image of the Pattern can destroy the Black Road. Corwin’s sword, Grayswandir, is also named, and it benefits from the power of the Pattern as well.

We are also introduced to the Courts of Chaos, or at least they are mentioned. It seems to be a place where demons live, demons who hate Amber. It always made a kind of sense to me. Amber is a kind of pole of Order. The one fixed world, which radiates infinite shadows around it. There are mentions of the shadows growing wilder the further one gets from Amber. Then its opposite must the “pole” of Chaos where things grow more and more undefined.

And the Jewel of Judgment is reintroduced and given to Corwin. He’s told by Eric that there are notes from Dworkin (the madman who helped Corwin escape the dungeons and the creator of the Trumps). There’s not a lot of explanation in this novel, but for those who have read the whole series, you can see Zelazny start to gather together the basic ideas of his cosmology here.

And because I mentioned women in my last recap, I should also mention them here. There are only two in the whole book, not counting the demonic creatures of the Black Road. Lorraine, who Corwin sleeps with and who comes to a horrible end, and Dara, who Corwin also sleeps with and who turns out to be a traitor allied with the Courts of Chaos. Their treatment, though, seems more even-handed than in Nine Princes. Corwin seems to really care about Lorraine—though he does hit her once—and Dara captivates him while easily deceiving him. In a way, the women in this novel both end up knowing more than Corwin, and make him look naive by comparison.

That, then, is The Guns of Avalon. What did you like about it? Was there anything that you didn’t like?


Rajan Khanna is a fiction writer and narrator whose reviews and columns appear on LitReactor. You can follow him on his website, and he tweets @rajanyk.

15 comments
bmac
1. bmac
I always wondered how much Zelazny had plotted the series in advance. I seem to remember reading somewhere that he hit the end of this with no idea what would happen next, and I've always been curious if that's true - there seems to be a fairly sharp break in plot (and to a lesser extent in style) between this book and the next.

This one also contains some lovely, lovely writing.
"Thus did I bear Sir Lancelot du Lac to the Keep of Ganelon, whom I trusted like a brother. That is to say, not at all."
bmac
2. ShawnPCooke
What always wigs me out about these books in the lack of denouement. The reader is given no time to recover from the events of the climax within the world of the book. It's all sex and no cuddle.
Steven Halter
3. stevenhalter
I think that this one fits very well with the first. Corwin's dream of vengence and invasion against Eric is all there. He has a plan. It sets up the Black Road and Dara as problems for the later books.
The writing is lovely. The part where he buries Lorraine (that you quote) shows Corwin's view of himself; his actions at the battle show that he is becoming a possibly better person than he recalls himself being.
Paul Weimer
4. PrinceJvstin
There are many reasons to like this one more than the first. I'm not quite in the camp that its better than the first, but from Benedict to Ganelon, the Black Road and more. this novel crams in the awesome.
Alicia Dodson
5. LynMars
I have always liked this one; the story really seems to steam ahead and gain cohesion here.

Benedict is awesome. He seems to exist in part to keep all of the others in line; no one can stand up to him in straight fight, and even cheating isn't a guarantee. Yet he's not entirely invincible, and as flawed as the rest in some ways. I think we get the explanation for the loss of his hand in the next book, and how that ties into the murdered men and Dara's presence.

Ganelon is always one of the best characters here too, and as the series develops and his own secrets come to light. The coming reveal concerning him was one of my favorites when I originally read it as a teen.

Dara is definitely not held in the same light as Corwin's younger sisters. Lorraine he seems a bit dismissive of, due to her status as not only a camp follower, but a Shadow dweller. Her backstory is tragic, as is her end. The amount of attention fixed on her by our narrator suggests she had a much bigger impact on Corwin than he realizes, and his vicious reprisal for her death--that at the same time he recognizes as another evil act in itself--shows how Corwin has changed in regard to viewing Shadows, and strikes me as one of his heroic moments, oddly, even if it's more vengeance than justice. But his monologue really explains it well.
gavadel
6. gavadel
I always forget how much actually happens in this book, because it's very very packed. It's possibly the best book in the series in terms of story.
jon meltzer
7. jmeltzer
So, Corwin is now "in control" of Amber. But does he really know what's going on?

Not enough to avoid making a Really Big Mistake in the next book. Cue ominous chords ...
Alan Brown
8. AlanBrown
I remember how excited I was to find this book, as the previous one ended so inconclusively, and left me wanting more.
I think part of why I liked this series is that it did not ever go in the directions I expected--it was like no fantasy I ever read. Dropping firearms into the middle of things certainly set the whole world of Amber on its ears.
I found the development of Corwin's character absolutely fascinating, and all of his family were so interesting in their interactions.
The only problem was, at the end of this one, I was again left wanting more, and the feeling was even stronger than the first time!
bmac
9. TRX
I read "Guns of Avalon" first, then found "Nine Princes in Amber", and then had to wait for Zelazny to write the other three.

At the time, they didn't seem any more quirky than most of Zelazny's other writing, which often reflected the "avant garde" nonlinear style that I blame on the British. But years later, reading the series from beginning to end, it's clear that it's one book, sliced and bandaged as needed to print it in separate volumes.

Back then, many publishers had fairly sharp limits on page or word count for mass-market stuff, so longer works were hard to sell. Plus, Roger probably got more money for it in five pieces instead of one.


The part of the whole series that struck me the most was that he woke up in a hospital bed as a 20th century human with no past. But even when he regains his memories of his life as Corwin, he's still Carl Corey of New York, not Lord Corwin of Amber. He embraces Corwin's ambitions and goals, but he's always a bit distant from them, and finally rejects them, choosing carl.corey++ over Lord Corwin, whose persona never quite fit.
Terence Tidler
10. libertariansoldier
Enjoying the re-read. I agree Corwin is already changing to someone very different than in 9Princes, although he does not change near as much as Random.
And I think it was Southwest Africa, not South Africa, since he is finding the stones on a beach and not in a blue clay tube.
bmac
11. Doug M.
A recurring theme in Zelazny is that his Cosmic Smartass heroes don't end up with the girl. (Any girl.)

I have to disagree that "the women in this novel both Corwin look naive by comparison". Lorraine is capital-D Doomed, so she gets a cryptic comment or two before her inevitable and pointless death. And it is inevitable, narratively speaking, because what's the alternative? Corwin dumping her doesn't fit with the Byronic-but-basically-decent character that Zelazny's trying to build, and Corwin dragging her along through Shadow makes no sense in terms of the story Zelazny wants to tell.

So she has to die, and in the most convenient possible way: *she* dumps *him*, and runs off with a guy who promptly kills her. Silly thing! But Corwin gets to avenge her, and then brood a bit. So /that's/ all right.

-- Yeah, this bugs me more than a little, because there was a possible out here: Zelazny could have had her run off with someone who turns out to be okay, and end up running a bakery or something in some quiet little village somewhere. But no: she has to die, tragically and stupidly. In narrative terms, this serves to allow Corwin the above-quoted bit of angsting. But you can't help but wonder that if she hadn't been a, you know, camp follower, she might have been allowed some sort of happy ending.

But worse is to come, because then there's Dara.


Doug M.
bmac
12. Doug M.
Dara is a bit problematic in this book: she's a shapeshifting demon who kills people, disguised as an attractive young woman who seduces Corwin. But when we get to know her better, three books from now... she's actually going to become much worse. Like throw-the-book levels of worse.

But we'll get to that.


Doug M.
bmac
13. Zarathustra's Shadow
I actually quite like Dara. I think she's probably the best part of the Amber metaphysic, and an able balance to Oberon, who likewise isn't what he seems.

FWLIW, Amber has a rather Zoroastrian/Manichean metaphysic, that is a pleasant balance to the usual Judaeo-Christian metaphysic, digested or taken for granted, that is the underpinnings of so much modern SFF. (We should remember that Mani, the prophet of Manicheism, is quite an honourable figure. It is not his fault that the cosmic forces he sets himself against are by his definition, almost as great as those with which he aligns himself.)
Sol Foster
14. colomon
Best book in the series, in my opinion. Though Nine Princes is a close second.

@2, the non-ending endings is one of the best part about this series. It's true of all ten books. They are just chunks of the characters' lives, and each one ends with stuff accomplished but clearly more story still to come. Even if Zelazny has no intention of telling it. (Though there are five books and more short stories to come afterward, we never really learn much of what happens to Corwin immediately after the end of Courts of Chaos.)

These books very definitely are not just one long book broken up for publishing reasons. He wrote individual books (there are some pretty big gaps between them) and did not plot out ahead. If you study it carefully there are plenty of glaring inconsistencies between the books. (If you don't believe me, ask an(other) Amber gamer. When you try to work out the details to make a consistent gaming universe, the muffed bits stand out clearly.) He just made sure to leave himself plenty of room to explore in the next book in the series.
bmac
15. Doug M.
Dara is actually a much better and more interesting character in this book than she eventually becomes -- she is formidable and mysterious and cunning, and has agency, and seems to exist for a reason other than to be furniture for Corwin. Which makes it that much more obnoxious when it turns out that, no, furniture for Corwin is exactly what she is.

Lorraine is a pretty pure Woman in a Refrigerator -- she exists only to die and make the hero feel bad about her death. Dara, by the end of Book Five, will actually be something even more annoying.

But, again, we'll get to that.


Doug M.

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