Roger Zelazny’s 1969 Creatures of Light and Darkness is a standalone science fantasy novel.
For a thousand years, a nameless servant has served Anubis in the House of the Dead. His reward is a personal name and a task. To the nameless servant’s surprise, the name Anubis gives him is not his former name, which would grant him access to his former self, but a new one, Wakim.
His task? Find and kill the Prince Who Was A Thousand.
Osiris rules the House of Life. He too would like to be spared the return of the Prince Who Was A Thousand. Like Anubis, Osiris has a champion: his son Horus. Horus is sent out to search the myriad worlds of humanity for the Prince.
Both Anubis and Osiris are usurpers. They co-exist and cooperate without particularly trusting or liking each other. Accordingly, their emissaries are dispatched as lone agents. Not only do Wakim and Horus not coordinate their plans, both are determined to be the one to find and slay the Prince. The only role each sees for the other is as a rival to be killed if he gets in the way.
Rivalry might be a useful distraction … for the Prince. The Prince could be anywhere and the universe is a very large place. As well, there are powers who very much want to see the return of the Prince, Powers who rival the emissaries if not in raw power, then in cunning and knowledge.
As I have previously commented, for some reason I cannot store Zelazny’s plots in long-term memory. All I remembered about this book, which I read decades ago, is that it involves gods, is somehow related to Lord of Light , and contains this amusing prayer:
Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I say, I ask, if it matters, that you be forgiven for anything you may have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness. Conversely, if not forgiveness but something else may be required to ensure any possible benefit for which you may be eligible after the destruction of your body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may be, in such a manner as to insure your receiving said benefit. I ask this in my capacity as your elected intermediary between yourself and that which may not be yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this thing, and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony. Amen.
It’s related to Lord of Light not in setting or plot, but as overturning the main conceit of the earlier novel. Lord depicted people pretending to be gods, Creatures features gods who are very real indeed. The books are alike in that it’s not a good idea to be a regular human whenever one of the gods or immortals wanders on stage. Those powers can be prone to wildly excessive punishments doled out on a whim — incinerating someone to silence them or turning them into a living carpet suitably for trampling. Conflicts between the great and powerful tend to massacre legions of unlucky bystanders.
There’s an interesting story re the first publication of this book. A sad story, really.
At the time the novel was published, Doubleday did not remainder its unsold science fiction when its sales cycle was complete; instead, it simply destroyed the unsold copies. After Creatures was issued in paperback, Doubleday mishandled its inventory, causing most of the print run of Zelazny’s next novel, the just-published Nine Princes in Amber , to be destroyed in error.
That’s horrifying. Luckily, this contretemps did not prevent Amber from selling well. Amber is quite possibly the only Zelazny work of which a modern reader might have heard.
Creatures is, in addition to being a thrilling tale of gods punching each other in the face, an exercise in stylistic experimentation not originally intended for publication. Being a tin-eared pleb, I am not therefore an ideal reviewer for that aspect of the book. For me, the prose was an impediment to enjoying the novel. Readers who enjoy watching an author play with language may enjoy this more than I did.