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.
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.
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?