fantasy fiction by Roger Zelazny
A casual acquaintance with Zelazny’s authorship of The Chronicles of Amber
might lead one to the mistaken supposition that it’s part of that series. While it echoes the vengeance
theme of the narrative of Corwin
of Amber, Jack of Shadows
is an unrelated tale in a separate milieu. As a whole I consider it one of Zelazny’s most memorable and compelling works, in spite of a few rough transitions.
Shadowjack (hereafter, simply Jack) is an immortal Power of a world in stasis. The Dayside, facing the sun and inhabited by mortal men, is ruled by science. Their technology provides a means of shielding their lands from the unrelenting heat of the sun. The Darkside, by contrast, is the home of immortal Powers like Jack; they have an ancient pact to put aside their differences from time to time, in groups of seven as mandated in the Red Book of Ells, to ritually renew the Shield that prevents All-Winter. If killed, a Darksider is reborn in the Dung Pits of Glyve. Jack is unique among his fellow Powers, in that his power is not bound to a specific place; rather, he draws strength anywhere light and darkness join in shadow. Darksiders believe that at the heart of the world ticks and grinds the World Machine, while Daysiders see the earth’s core as molten rock stirred by mystical elementals. There is no open conflict between the realms of Day and Night, but each side regards the other with a measure of suspicion.
Darksiders’ immortality is attended by cruelty and self-centeredness. While they may make alliances and acquaint on friendly terms, they delight equally in devising exquisite tortures for rivals who come into their power. The narrative explores Jack’s drive for vengeance on the Lord of Bats, from whom he stole some manuals of magic, who killed Jack, and who claimed his intended bride: Evene, daughter of the Colonel Who Never Died. His consuming pride and vengeful nature drive him to atrocities never before witnessed, and the evil of his means renders his eventual triumph empty. Zelazny prefaces the work with a quote from The Merchant of Venice, but I’m reminded more of Matthew 16:26 – "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"