Jack of Shadows
Cover of first edition (hardcover)
|Cover artist||Judith Loeser|
|Genre||Science fiction, Fantasy, novel|
|Publisher||Walker and Company|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback)|
|LC Class||PZ4.Z456 Jac PS3576.E43|
Jack of Shadows is a novel combining elements of both science fiction and fantasy written by American author Roger Zelazny. According to him, the name of the book (but not the titular character) was a homage to Jack Vance. In his introduction to the novel he mentioned that he tried to capture some of the exotic landscapes so frequent in Vance's work. Zelazny wrote it in first draft, no rewrites. The novel was serialized in F&SF in 1971 and published in book form that same year. It was nominated for a 1972 Hugo Award and finished #4 in the 1972 Locus Poll for Best Novel.
The text of the serialization and the published book are slightly different. A copy-editing error garbled a conversation between Jack and Morningstar in chapter 6; the correct version appeared in the original magazine appearance and has been reprinted on pages 511–512 of The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume 3: This Mortal Mountain, NESFA Press, 2009.
Powerful magical entities live on the night side of the planet, and for the most part the entities' magical powers emanate from distinct loci. Jack of Shadows (a.k.a. Shadowjack), the main character, is unique among the magical beings in that he draws his power not from a physical location but from shadow itself. He is nearly incapacitated in complete light or complete darkness, but given access to even a small area of shadow, his potency is unmatched.
Jack's only friend, the creature Morningstar, is punished by being trapped in stone at the edge of the night, to be released when dawn comes. His torso and head protrude from the rock, and he awaits the sun that will never rise.
Jack seeks "The Key That Was Lost", Kolwynia. The Key itself and the consequences of its use parallel Jack's progress in his own endeavors. Ultimately, the Key will be responsible for Jack's salvation and his doom.
Fleeing the dark side, Jack gets access to a computer and uses it to recover Kolwynia. This makes him unbeatable, but not all-powerful. Having made a mess of ruling with his new powers, he seeks the advice of Morningstar, who advises him to destroy The Machine at the Heart of the World, which maintains the world's stability, and set it rotating.
The novel ends with Jack falling, perhaps to his death, but Morningstar has been freed by the world's turning and rushes to rescue him. The fate of this ambiguous hero is left untold, with Jack wondering, as he falls, if Morningstar will reach him in time.
Lester del Rey received the novel unfavorably, noting that while the opening half was "minor Zelazny, quite enjoyable", the conclusion was "rather grim and ugly…[ultimately] dull". He concluded that, with the essentials of the hero's biography left unrevealed, "the whole thing seems rather pointless".
Additional stories of Jack of Shadows
Zelazny was pressured by fans to write a sequel but he declined, saying “I didn’t really intend to continue that one. I liked ending it with that sort of ambiguous ending.” Instead, he wrote several prequels:
The Last Defender of Camelot (1981, Underwood-Miller) reprints the tale "Shadowjack" but without the illustrations. This was in the Underwood-Miller edition of the collection, but not the Pocket Books version. It also appears in Last Exit to Babylon: Volume 4: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, NESFA Press, 2009.
Wizards ed Bill Fawcett, Mayfair Games, 1983 contains the character biography entitled "Shadowjack". This was written by Roger Zelazny and details aspects of the character's history that were not in the novel or in the short story of the same name. It has also been reprinted in Last Exit to Babylon.
Shadowland was another prequel, written by Zelazny as the outline for an unproduced animated movie. It takes place prior to events of the novel and the short story, and describes how the strange half magic/half science world of Jack of Shadows came into existence. It was later developed and in production as a graphic novel before Zelazny died but the project was abandoned. The story first appears in The Road to Amber: Volume 6: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, NESFA Press, 2009.
Allusions and references in other works
In Daniel Keys Moran’s novel, The Long Run, the protagonist Trent Castanaveras is rescued from a low Lunar orbit by a stealth spacecraft from the Spacefarers Collective called the "Jack of Shadows".
- "1972 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-09-27.
- "...And Call Me Roger": The Literary Life of Roger Zelazny, Part 3, by Christopher S. Kovacs. In: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume 3: This Mortal Mountain, NESFA Press, 2009.
- "The Reading Room", If, February 1972, p.158–59.
- Levack, Daniel J. H. (1983). Amber Dreams: A Roger Zelazny Bibliography. San Francisco: Underwood/Miller. pp. 46–48. ISBN 0-934438-39-0.
- Fredericks, S. C. (1979). Roger Zelazny and the Trickster Myth: An Analysis of Jack of Shadows; The Journal of American Culture 2 (2), 271–278. doi:10.1111/j.1542-734X.1979.0202_271.x