The Changing Land

by Roger Zelazny

Reading Review by Michael Channing

The Changing Land by Roger Zelazny

This book has great promise. The setting is intriguing, the main character is cool and interesting, the action is well paced. It vaults high but lands badly, twists its ankle, and limps away embarrassed.

The castle and surrounding lands where the story takes place is beset by random magics that wash over the place in waves, altering the landscape, summoning monsters, paralyzing or entrapping trespassers, even altering the flow of time itself. Those brave or foolish enough to attempt entry to the castle are after the power of Tualua, a tentacled being of great magic and unpredictable rage. Tualua is trapped within the castle, and its captors and keepers are often in danger themselves of falling prey to the ancient entity’s wrath. One woman, a once-dead and still beautiful priestess, has earned Tualua’s affection, and she has her own plans to block out the castle’s master and harness the power within for herself. Jailed in the castle’s dungeon are a group of wizards also after the power to use for good or bad, depending on what color cloak they wear. Then there’s Dilvish, the main character who rides through the changing land on a black, metallic horse. He wants none of the castle’s power or treasure. He only seeks revenge against the castle’s master for deeds committed years ago in a book that this one must be the sequel to.

I have no problem with the half-revealed history of Dilvish belonging to another book I will probably never be able to track down. It deepens his character, veils him in mystery. He is, by far, the best character. The rest are entirely defined by their roles in the plot. The female that Dilvish meets outside the castle is there to be a damsel. The wizards inside are there to provide plot points and explain the situation to Dilvish. The bad guys are bad. The once-dead sorceress provides sex and further exposition.

The flaws of characterization would be forgivable if the story worked. And at first it seems like it will. The one who captured Tualua is, himself, locked out and has to use subterfuge to regain his position. Factions form within the castle. Wizards without lend their powers to help breach the walls. Wizards within find ways to defend themselves from the demons that enslave and punish them. Dilvish is captured, makes a deal. His horse has secrets of its own. But then…

The whole thing is solved by a series of deus ex machinas, one quite literal. A few characters die, but we don’t care. The damsel does nothing. A pact between two characters is dissolved, which might be meaningful if we had been aware of it before that exact moment. The conflict fixes itself, and the players all turn to each other and say, "Boy, that was a thing." Zelazny squanders all the potential of this amazing setting.

I was going to say the book was still a fun read, but the act of writing this review has made me rethink that assessment. This book was a disappointment. That's a shame, because I loved the Amber novels. A Night in the Lonesome October, Zelazny's final novel, was great fun. So were several other Zelazny books I've read. The man knew how to craft a tale, but this one feels like he got bored and ended it as quickly as possible. You might find yourself doing the same.

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