OFF THE SHELF: “Knight of Shadows”

By Marcus Pan

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Knight of ShadowsStrange how I only just now read an Amber story. The world of Amber – the “one real world, of which all others including Earth, are but shadows” – was as I recall somewhat well known back in the day. This piece of the puzzle, Knight of Shadows, is fairly far in advance of the early novels in the Amber series and unlike some writers, such as Piers Anthony(1), Zelazny’s ability to have pieces of a series stand alone utterly sucks.

First, let me introduce you to Zelazny’s Amber. Amber is a mythological, sorcery-filled fantasy action world. I will withhold judgment on the makeup of this world, as I haven’t read the book that started it all(2). I will say that it seems somewhat hazy – but understandably, many of the interesting ways of creating alternate worlds to send common folks delving into for the sake of swords and sorcery have already been used. It could very well be that Roger did well and I just haven’t read it.

This series seems to follow the action of sorcerer Merlin (yes, really), who has walked two patterns in his lifetime to earn powers from both Order and Chaos. The idea of walking a certain pattern plays heavily on the idea of ritualistic magic (i.e. pentagrams, widdershins, etc.) and smells interestingly like Hellraiser’s famed secret box – and I like that. The precise walking of a pattern causes your very make-up to be reassembled, with stronger powers. Merlin, it seems, has walked both the Pattern (Order) and the Logrus (Chaos), and therefore can summon up powers from both of these when in need.

In Knight of Shadows, Merlin is tossed into a quasi-shadow world where the, it seems sentient, forces of Chaos and Order are battling for control. A neutral territory where he can’t summon and therefore use anything from either, a first attempt at bringing forth the Logrus lays a smack down on him – but also turns his stranglecord somewhat sentient. His stranglecord, if you will allow me to explain, is a possibly living, invisible wire of rope that hangs about his wrist that he can use to attack opponents. The summoning and crash of the Logrus on this neutral plane gives this little bit of rope the ability to speak in Merlin’s mind. A very cheesy thing to do indeed. Zelazny was looking for a way to give Merlin instructions in this world as a geas of sorts has been thrown at Our Hero, and rather than use riddles – which I and others might have done – he takes the simplistic cheesy way out with the “sudden sentience” of magical objects.

The gist of this story, we learn, is that Merlin must fix a broken Pattern. For every Pattern or Logrus that is complete, that side of the spectrum gets a little bit stronger. So Merle must go on a walkabout in a strange and crappily built, imaginative-less place until he comes to the final chamber where a broken Pattern requires him to walk it from his own knowledge of doing so before. In his walk he completes the broken parts of the puzzle, giving Order a bit more leeway in the multiverse.

Let’s go back to the inability of Roger’s to stand a book on it’s own right. While this is a specific and laid out main plot for the book and doesn’t wind much into others, there are multiple plot lines that wind through it from subsequent and, I assume, upcoming pieces of the Amber series. People, including Merlin for example, are treated as two dimensional characters because the author assumes we’ve all read the previous installments in the series. It seems without the background, you’re just reading a badly written tale with holes all over the book and throughout the storyline. Imagine watching only every other episode of the X-Files and you get the idea – you’re missing out on a lot.

I wasn’t overly impressed with Zelazny here. I’m also currently reading another installment of the Amber series, and I’m something like halfway through it as I write this. I’m not overly impressed with that one either. Also note that the cover art by Tim White, while interesting, hasn’t a fucking thing to do with the story as far as I can tell.

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Buy "Knight of Shadows"

“Knight of Shadows” by Roger Zelazny
Cover Art by Tim White
Published by Avon Books a division of The Hearst Corporation
Copyright © 1989 by the Amber Corporation
ISBN: 0-380-75501-7
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 89-34658

(1) I am thinking specifically of the Bio of a Space Tyrant series here, which was reviewed in Legends #120 (and also 121, a pretty big fuck up by yours truly).
(2) Nine Princes in Amber, presumably.

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