To Die in Italbar by Roger Zelazny is a 174-page science fiction novel originally published by Doubleday & Company in January of 1973. The book is actually the second in the Francis Sandow series–I guess I’ll have to read the rest of the series now! The book can stand alone, though, as it’s not *technically* a sequel. I certainly didn’t feel like I was missing any information about characters, plot, or setting. I read To Die in Italbar as a part of Vintage SciFi Month.
The story revolves around the journeys of a mysterious man called “H” who has a unique power that allows him to heal even the most terminal of illnesses. Another important point of view is that of Malacar Miles, a military man who is determined to find H to use the horrifying flipside of his healing power–the ability to spread diseases that H has contracted–in order to strike at Malacar’s old enemies. There is one female POV of note–a girl who works in a brothel but secretly idolizes the military prowess of Malacar and wishes to meet and help him take revenge on their mutual enemies. I loved her raw anger, but I can’t remember her name.
The story switches back and forth between points of view so often with no indication of who is the current POV that I was continuously just trying to figure out whose story I was reading. This is in part because four of the main characters are all relatively similar male points of view. What kept me going was the overarching plot and divine nature of H’s gift and the fact that he waivered back and forth between periods of healing and periods of diseasing people near him.
I also really enjoyed Malacar’s plotline. There was a deep political background to the novel through Malacar’s history of war with a planetary alliance that overtaxed and refused to accept his planet as a part of that alliance. His story grounded the otherwise fantasy-like tale of H. Malacar also had a friend of an alien race named Shind that had telepathic powers and was just truly fascinating. I would have been happy to read an entire book about Shind, who helped to give Malacar a little emotional depth.
The resolution of the novel tied up all the loose ends that I didn’t think Zelazny would even bother with. It was a bit surprising but completely satisfying. The cameo by Francis Sandow intrigued me enough to want to read Isle of the Dead (Francis Sandow #1). Sandow is a planet builder, and his story reminded me a bit of the Magratheans from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is one of my favorite space-faring series.
To Die In Italbar was a quick read, although I originally only read 10 pages before putting it down. Vintage SciFi Month encouraged me to reread those pages and finish the book. I’m glad I did, because it was seriously intriguing! This was the first book I’ve read by Zelazny, and I’ll definitely be picking up more books by him. I’d recommend this novel to fans of sci-fi and fantasy that has military and religious overtones.
TITLE: To Die in Italbar
AUTHOR: Roger Zelazny
ALSO WROTE: Chronicles of Amber, Lord of Light
FIRST LINE: On the night he had chosen months before, Malacar Miles crossed the street numbered seven, passing beneath the glow-globe he had damaged during the day.