I don't know if I can do this. It was painful to read; how much more painful will it be to write about? But my conscience tells me I must, lest someone else accidentally picks up this book under the impression that it might actually readable. Do not, I beg you! Learn from my mistake!
You would think that when Roger Zelazney and Fred Saberhagen get together to write a book it would be worth reading. I mean, these are two of the biggest names in science fiction and fantasy. Zelazney rose to immortality on his Amber series, and Saberhagen's Berserker series is one of the biggest sci-fi franchises on the shelf. Both have been critically acclaimed.
The premise of The Black Throne is... well, I guess that's where the trouble starts. The premise is rather muddled. It has to do with Edgar Allan Poe (a man whose writing I was raised on, which probably explains a lot) and multiple universes and a girl named Annie and her Kingdom by the sea and a fellow who is much like Poe, except his name is Edgar Perry and he's not mad or an alcoholic or much of a writer. He's like Poe's healthier, less exctiting alter ego. He's Poe if Poe was more like Kipling, except not so smart.
Poe, Perry and Annie meet in a kingdom by the sea throughout their childhood, apparently. And then something happens and Annie and Perry are thrown into Poe's world, and Poe is thrown into Perry's (our) world, where things are less magical. While Annie and Perry muddle through various adventures, Poe seems to keep some sort of connection to the two and writes of their adventures in garbled fashion. Thus Murders in the Rue Morgue, Mask of the Red Death, etc are born. It all sounds rather interesting, except it isn't.
Here is an excerpt, and it illustrates both what I mean by the muddled feel of the whole book and also what I mean when I say imitation has its limitations:
"Walking on that gray, warm morn through fogs which entombed his world in near-viscous whiteness, perfect as snow, quietening as cloak or shroud, the boy moved with a certain deliberation, wordless voice within his head, veiled forms swaying about him, avoiding cobble and branch in passage through the wood behind the school, oddity back of a place once known well, occuring mystery somehow situated to hold his soul chrysalis for a vital season, somehow special, personal, and marking a passage distinctive as scar or tattoo upon his life and forever."
Can someone please buy these guys a period? Or trade two for one for a comma? Look, I know what they're trying to do. But Only POE could get away with that sort of crap, because only POE could come up with the sort of macabre, fascinating idea that would make putting up with that sort of crap worth it. We read Poe despite the twisted run-on sentences, not because of them.
I was going to go through all the terrible bits of the book, but I just don't have the strength. Here are the highlights:
1) When Poe's alter ego Perry writes poetry:
These recent days be bloody stuff
and also recent dreams.
I seem to hear a phthisic cough
by life's eternal streams.
Death lurks and laughs his ass off.
At least that's how it seems.
At first I thought this was meant to be a little light humor. Then I realized it wasn't. Then I gagged.
2) The 'Plot' (not to be confused with the premise): Annie is a powerful supernatural woman who has been manipulated by three 'mesmerists' to shift the Edgars around in their worlds so that she can build up some sort of a psychic charge and power an alchemical transformation of lead into gold. Huh? Well, a LOT of lead into a LOT of gold. Oh. Well, at least there's a lot of gold at stake. Perry trails after her and her kidnappers from Richmond through Paris, parts of Spain, the Antarctic and New York. And in the end, she doesn't even need his help to be rescued.
3) The south pole is actually a big drain in which all water drains through the center of the earth and gets spat up through the north pole. Sort of a constant flush. Perry's ship gets sucked in, but 'just by chance' they had rescued a Dutch balloonist sometime before. They ride the baloon to NORTH AMERICA with only one brief stop.
4) Perry digs a trench in the middle of the villain's fortress and hides it with a piece of tarp. Never mind that the room is actually a room, not a dirt-floored hovel, or that one of the many henchmen would have noticed him, or that the writers, who yet again badly damaged our willing suspension of disbelieve then don't even bother to use the offending trench in the plot. Just never mind.
5) The villain of the piece makes Perry the sole beneficiary of his last will and testament. Why? Nobody knows. Well he may have been Perry's father. But that's just speculation. "Perry. I am your father, Perry. Join me on the dark side of the force, where we kidnap young girls and make them turn lead into gold. C'mon, Perry, you know you want to.'
5) There is no black throne in the entirety of The Black Throne. There is however a black chair. A 'shiny black chair'. So that's okay, I guess. As long as it's shiny.
I'm tired now. Let me sleep. Maybe the pain will subside. It's not enough that I suffer from literary poisoning, but you people make me talk about it too? Go read the Black Throne for yourself, then!
No I don't mean it. It's only the pain.