Roger Zelazny is a fascinating, singularly unique writer. What other author gives you the likes of Jack the Ripper, Count Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, and Sherlock Holmes in the same novel? How about Lovecraftian themes and allusions? And it's not even a horror novel. This is wildly romping fantasy at its best. Our narrator is a dog named Snuff; he's no ordinary dog, however. He is the companion of Saucy Jack, the watchdog of unfathomable trapped monsters, calculator of the lines of fate, and immensely important guardian against evil. In certain years, when the moon is right, on All Hallow's Eve, the Elder Gods seek entry back into our world. At those times, the proper individuals and agents instinctively come to the crucial area and seek to either open or close the eldritch gates. During such a lonesome October, these agents prepare their spells and minds for the challenge, while interacting with one another in attempts to learn from, thwart, and sometimes remove their fellow players from the Game. Each player has a companion animal, and it is Snuff's interaction with his cohorts that drives the story along. Snuff's greatest friend is the cat Graymalk, and their relationship and true friendship in the face of possible competition really won me over. The Game is confusing early on, which is at it should be. The reader must struggle to understand not only what the Game actually is but also figure out who and what is on which side of the coming conflict. I remained relatively clueless as to how the final drama would play out, and I am happy to say I did not find it disappointing.
It is interesting to consider the players in this Game. While we know Snuff serves Jack the Ripper, we see the man as a cheerful, utterly pleasant man with a grave responsibility, a veritable hero in fact; allusions are made to his trips to town for certain necessary items, and we do see him become deadly dangerous when Snuff is in danger, but largely the character is Jack and never the Ripper. The other characters are basically all portrayed in the same fashion, and it becomes particularly amusing for the Great Detective to continue running around in the guise of a woman, especially since Snuff is never fooled by the disguise the way the humans are.
Zelazny gives us a fun read with this novel. It's not particularly funny, yet I view it as a comedy in many ways. There is one section when the text changes completely, describing a transit among the lands Lovecraft fans regard with awe and wonder, but by and large it is a fast, engrossing read sure to delight all fans of well-crafted, lively fantasy. There is only one Roger Zelazny, and no fan of fantasy should deprive himself of the talents of this fantastic author. I should also mention the fact that this book is replete with illustrations by the renowned Gahan Wilson; the illustrations strike me as minimalist and simplistic, but they do seem to suit the story and its style of presentation quite well, adding a further touch of distinction to this uncommonly good novel.