Originally published in 1971, Roger Zelazny‘s long out-of-print sci-fi/fantasy novel Jack of Shadows is a hidden gem amongst the author’s works. Chicago Review Press has exhumed the novel from its publishing grave for its Rediscovered Classics Series, adding to it a Foreword by Joe Haldeman (The Forever War) and a redesigned cover that more accurately depicts the world described within.
Zelazny, who passed away in 1995, is best known for his 10-book The Chronicles of Amber saga, and thanks to the movie Argo, his novel Lord Of Light has gotten more attention in recent years. But Jack of Shadows stands out not only for its intriguing tale, but for the fact that the author wrote the story in only one draft, and it’s a good one.
In Jack Of Shadows, we meet Jack aka Shadowjack, an infamous master thief and the Lord of Shadows, the realm between the two opposing parts of the world — the Lightside and the Darkside. Lightlanders enjoy perpetual light and put their faith in science, while Darksiders dwell in constant darkness and wield magic.
When Jack, whose power is mysteriously derived from shadows, arrives at the Hellgames with the intent to steal its trophy containing a priceless gem within it, his reputation proceeds him. He’s immediately spotted by his enemies, who then report him to the Games Master. It seems Shadowjack knew the possible consequences of attending the Hellgames, but he was motivated by something so strong that he felt it worth the risk.
Too powerful to confine and not trustworthy enough to release, Jack is unjustifiably sentenced him to death by his captors (he hadn’t actually stolen anything; all he did was show up!). But, for someone like Jack, death does not mean gone forever. He eventually returns from the dead, reawakening far away in the Dung Pits of Glyve fueled by vengeance against those who put him there. But, first, he must make his way out of that realm and through several more lands lorded over by more of his adversaries who wish to torture and destroy him.
Jack’s journey through each Darkside realm is fraught with deadly encounters, not only from the elements but by supernatural creatures like vampires and witches, as well as powerful entities. Also, his enemies are cruel, especially his archnemesis the Lord of Bats. Thankfully, Jack does have some allies, such as the dark angel Morningstar, whose philosophical musings overshadow everything else going on.
Jack of Shadows begins as a revenge tale that takes Jack on a quest not unlike those seen in D&D adventures, with twists, challenges, riddles, and melees, but the story eventually goes deeper than that of an antihero’s. There’s the struggle between light and dark; the battle between science and magic; and the question of Jack’s place is in this world.
So as Shadowjack resurrects, so too does Jack of Shadows with this new Rediscovered Classics Series, which comes in at just over 200 pages and is a captivating, quick-read that fans of Zelazny will devour and that high fantasy readers will appreciate.
Official synopsis from the publisher:
In a world half of light, half of darkness, where science and magic strive for dominance, there dwells a magical being who is friendly with neither side. Jack, of the realm of shadows, is a thief who is unjustly punished. So he embarks on a vendetta. He wanders through strange realms, encountering witches, vampires, and, finally, his worst enemy: the Lord of Bats. He consults his friend Morningstar, a great dark angel. He is pursued by a monstrous creature called the Borshin. But to reveal any more would be to spoil some of the mindboggling surprises Jack of Shadows has in store. First published in 1971 and long out-of-print, Jack of Shadows is one of fantasy master Roger Zelazny’s most profound and mysterious books.