Fantasy Novel Review: A Night in Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny

My reading was seasonal, but because I have a review backlog and have been focused on SPSFC and Hugos, my review is not seasonal. And so it goes. Roger Zelazny is a name I know mostly because he blurbed my absolute favorite of all the books on my shelf (R.A. Lafferty’s short story collection, Nine Hundred Grandmothers), but he was a successful author in his own right, and his fantasy/horror/comedy A Night in Lonesome October has won a place as an annual reread for many fans. So when r/Fantasy organized a group read this October, I thought I’d jump in. 

A Night in Lonesome October has a different structure than most fantasy novels, with 31 chapters that each correspond to a day in October. It isn’t quite a diary, because of an inability to write on the part or the narrator—Snuff, watchdog in service of a knife-wielding figure named Jack, who has recently moved just outside of late 1800s London. Yes, that’s a reference to a towering figure in popular culture, and it won’t be the last. Snuff spends the month helping Jack prepare for some mystical Game that will culminate on Halloween night. 

The structure makes it excellent fodder for a month-long reading project but a little bit hard to evaluate as a typical novel. Early in the month, most chapters are just a few pages and feature Snuff making rounds and meeting other Game participants and their animal companions. Would that feel repetitive for someone reading straight through? Maybe. Or would it go so quickly that they wouldn’t mind much? Also maybe.

At any rate, the early part of the month introduces a host of close analogues to popular figures, including a Great Detective (complete with limping companion), a grave-robbing Good Doctor performing electrical experiments on bodies, an Eastern European Count with a bat for a friend, and so on. It takes much longer to understand the point of any of this, but the book is so short and Snuff’s narration so entertaining—at one point, he calls the collection of mystical items a “lunatic scavenger hunt”—that the lack of early context is not offputting. 

As the novel progresses, the reader begins to understand the significant of Halloween’s big event, and the chapters begin to vary in length, as some days feature lots of activity—complete with no lack of mortal peril for Game participants—and some feature relatively little. Trying to keep on a day-by-day reading schedule, I felt that some of the extended chapters felt overly long, but I’m not sure I would’ve noticed if trying to read straight through. 

Once the plot begins to clarify, we see that it isn’t especially intricate—there are two opposing factions working against each other to achieve their mystical ends—but the story leaves us with plenty of interesting mysteries as far as the affiliation of the players and the identities of a couple mysterious figures. It’s not going to keep you turning the pages to see what happens next, but it’s entertaining enough. And not only does Snuff’s voice continue to carry the narrative, his burgeoning relationships with other animal companions provide a nice interpersonal dimension to the story. 

Overall, it’s a short, fun, seasonal read. I’m not sure I was wowed enough to make it an annual tradition, but there’s something to be said for something easy and enjoyable as a change-of-pace, especially when that something is tightly tied to a particular time of year. 

Recommended if you like: horror plots subverted with light tones, canine narrators, Halloween-theming. 

Can I use it for Bingo? I’d argue it’s hard mode for Genre Mashup, and I suppose the dates do constitute two-word Chapter Titles, but it also has a Mystery Plot and is a Book Club book. 

Overall rating: 15 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads.

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