[Book Review] Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny ***

This novel is a difficult one to review. Thoroughly engaging all the way through it presses a philosophy upon the reader and is not concluded in a satisfactory way.

Zelazny's writing is fantastic and his prose, while mostly simple, flows like rolling hills. The backdrop is a world that could be ours in the past, future or alternate present; however it could easily just be another planet or dimension. What it is, as with most of his writing, is unique.

It's through E. Gary Gygax I found this story as it was something that helped inspire Dungeons & Dragons. It's easy to see how the main character inspired the Thief as used in that game. It's also heavily compared to Vance's Cugel stories which I'm reading shortly (after Princess of Mars). In most reviews I see that Jack is seen as something less desirable than Cugel, so it should be interesting.

I love how the story begins and draws out the depth of character and setting with ease and majesty. I follow along and have trouble putting the book down despite the overly long chapters. The characters, powers and the split between science and magic is quite endearing. For much of the book I'm enthralled.

Then it veers left and I spend too much time with furrowed brows, wondering where Zelazny is going with this. It presses the philosophy that there is no “truth” but simply what each person perceives is true, which I think is a philosophy that makes people feel better about their secrets and hidden things but ignores the idea there could be an actual baseline truth the perceptions are skewing from.

Along with the left-veer, the reader may lose empathy with the main character, which doesn't lend itself to feeling attached to the novel when completed. Still, Jack of Shadows was unique and interesting.

The prose is 4/5
The ingenuity is 4/5
The ending is 1/5

I would still pick up any other Zelazny book and give it a whirl. He can certainly write and Jack of Shadows has some worthy moments despite crashing and burning in the end.



Oedipussy Rex's picture

Considering that the first draft was the final draft and originally published as a serial (as many books back then were), I can see how the author of the absolutely fantastic Lord of Light could turn out an uneven book. Kerouac's On the Road was a successful experiment. But recounting personal experiences of a drug-addled journey is a bit different from writing fiction. Even in an era where the "boundaries" of genre fiction were being blurred. (Jack Chalker and Piers Anthony also come immediately to mind. Neither of whom I can read anymore.)

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Disappointing Mom since 2010.

Kersus's picture

It is indeed an impressive first draft and pushes the envelope of what one could accept as a protagonist. As a serial, it had some hope however Jack went from intriguing rogue to simply evil. I read one review that talked about the Bat-guy as the true protagonist, but that wasn't the feel I had.

Taking into account things like first draft and serial, it would get another star. I reviewed it as a standalone.

Zelazny's writing did drag me through even disliking his character and philosophy, which was quite a feat. Other books about characters I like with philosophies I enjoy have been dull and impossible to read.

It was tough to really grade.