I read the prequel to this book, Changeling, for an earlier review, and I really enjoyed it. As I stated then, I sadly haven’t had a lot of experience with Mr. Zelazny’s books. This is a situation I am definitely going to change, though Madwand didn’t put much fuel on that fire.
In Changeling we meet young Pol Detson, who was brought to our world and raised as Daniel Chain to prevent him following in the steps of his father Det, a powerful evil sorcerer. An old wizard named Mor (who may well be Pol’s grandfather, since Det’s last name is Morson, though this is never noted by the characters in either book) brought a baby named Mark from our world in return who grew up to be a dangerous tech-obsessed villain, and Pol was forced to return to defeat Mark. This book starts up after Mark’s defeat, and Pol is just settling in to learn about his place in this world and the legacy his father left behind. However the sins of the father start to catch up to him very quickly.
Pol is attacked in his home by a rival wizard and barely survives. Afterward, he decides to go directly to the source of information, which in this case is a gathering of wizards in a nearby town. Along the way he meets up with others and learns that he is a Madwand, or someone who uses magic without instruction or training. Madwands are usually powerful but clumsy. He also learns that his father’s name and castle of Rondoval have a very bad reputation, though no one explains why. Dark dreams start appearing every night, dreams of opening an ominous Gate and releasing terrible beings, but again he has no idea what’s going on……..
The chapters of Pol, his friend Mouseglove, and other characters are interspersed with another being that seems to have only come into existence since Pol arrived back in the castle. This other being slowly gains solidity and purpose throughout the book, and eventually interacts with Pol in an important way. It’s these chapters, unfortunately, that drag down the book in a very serious way.
Zelazny spends these chapters explaining the growing awareness and intelligence of this being, and the vague descriptions are somewhat difficult to push through. It’s the opposite problem of filming a book; I get the sense that these sections would be much more coherent and enjoyable in a visual medium as opposed to the written word. They also break up the flow of the plot, since the being sometimes simply recounts his own experiences during an event.
His writing of the main characters is likewise somewhat lackluster-the actors never feel invested in anything they do, simply playing their parts. His love from the previous book, Nora, is gone with only a single line of explanation, and a new possible interest is introduced here with little fanfare, and the new people who are introduced are likewise flat.There’s no passion here, no emotion.Hell, he also makes Pol doing magic seem dull and uninteresting, with more vague descriptions of what’s going on without a great deal of explanation. In Changeling there was real conflict. Mark was an angry and driven man, and Pol reacted to that anger and the destruction Mark was inflicting, as well as his own “outsider” status. It popped, but by the time Madwand rolls around that vitality feels gone, as if Mr. Zelazny didn’t really plan on a sequel. Given that he didn’t create one for Madwand despite a clear sequel hook after the bad guy escapes on a flying armchair, this is possible. All in all, read the first, skip the second. I have no doubt about Mr. Zelazny’s talent, but talent without passion doesn’t equal entertainment.
As with all of my other reviews, this one is also featured on Cannonball Read, a race to review a certain number of books in a year, all in a good cause. There’s a lot of other good stuff over there: please feel free to take a look.