Reviews & Overviews by Rod Cameron

        
Author Title Reviewed
Roger Zelazny The Chronicles of Amber June 2000
Published by Price Pages
Millenium  £7.99  
Pattern Walkers Wanted – Apply Here!
Hands up anyone who has never read the Amber Chronicles, written by Roger Joseph Zelazny (1937 – 1995). You lucky, lucky people, because they are back in print. You are to be envied for the experience of reading them for the first time. This is a classic story, well worth the investment in time and cash.

Why? What makes it such an excellent read? Well, where to start? Firstly and most importantly : credibility. The underlying fantasy mechanism starts out as being plain weird, but by the end the explanation hangs together satisfyingly well. The basic premise is that literally everywhere that can be imagined, exists and is merely a shadow reflection of the true existence – the Kingdom of Amber. As a prince/ss of the blood, travel is undertaken by imagining changes in the landscape. Adding and subtracting until your ultimate goal is achieved. No disappointing widgets are required. However, in order to ‘walk in Shadow’ you must first walk the Pattern. The Pattern controls Amber, and therefore all of Shadow that is not controlled by Chaos. Because of the Pattern’s existence, Chaos is kept at bay.

There is a neat communication system by means of ‘Tarot’ Trumps. The special packs of cards have pictures of all the main characters on them. They can be used as a telephone system by concentrating on the picture of the person you wish to talk to. If the person you are speaking to is willing, you can even join them where they are.

Characterisation of most of the main characters is excellent. The tale starts out as the old amnesiac story. But you soon realise that whilst this is modern day America, something strange is going on, and you don’t know where it is going to lead to. The hero Corwin starts out as a drugged man in hospital, and by sharing a tortuous route with him we learn his true heritage. During the journey he matures from a ‘spoilt very-old brat’ into something which if not human is much more sympathetic in nature.

The story is still fresh after thirty years – Zelazny’s ideas are impressive, clever and sophisticated. Despite the fact that the story is spread over five short (by today’s standards) books, the necessary repetition is kept to an acceptable minimum, and most of the threads are resolved by the end.

The five novels are :

Nine Princes in Amber (1970)

Introduces us to Corwin, one of nine long living humanoid princes who are wrapped up in the political machinations concerning the running of the Kingdom of Amber. Amber, the one and only true kingdom, of which everywhere else, including the Earth, is a mere shadow. Oberon, the King of Amber, and father of the princes has gone missing, hence the Machiavellian struggles for power. The book takes Corwin from a hospital in America to the depths of despair. And ultimately escape from imprisonment by his brother Eric.

Guns of Avalon (1972)

Further attempts by Corwin to claim the throne from Eric by bringing guns to Amber. More of the underlying principles of Shadow are explained, and we first meet the Black Road and the creatures that travel on it. Ganelon is also introduced.

Sign of the Unicorn (1975)

More about the underlying structure of Shadow and Chaos, as a bizarre vision transcends all Corwin has ever suspected about the true nature of Amber. A death reflects badly on Corwin. But who the villains really are starts to become clearer.

Hand of Oberon (1976)

Doh! Obvious really, but the clues are easily missed. The Pattern is damaged. The traitor must be uncovered. And the source of the black road discovered.

Courts of Chaos (1978)

The cosmic Pattern that sustains the world of Amber lies in shreds and must be re-created. Reality is on the verge of disintegration. Corwin, uncrowned prince of the perfect realm must face shape-shifting assassins, an alluring woman, and the multi-dimensional terrors of Shadow in his quest to save the kingdom.

A number of plot-lines, and the desire to read more about Amber are satisfied to some extent by a second series of five books. But it must be said that they are more contrived and ultimately less satisfying. Sadly Corwin is noticeable by his absence. Zelazny also co-wrote, with Neil Randall "The Visual Guide to Castle Amber", which although mandatory for completists, adds nothing to the basic story lines.

Sadly Zelazny died before he could explore the Kingdom any further. However, all is not lost. A lot of his other works merit attention. Unfortunately most are out of print at the moment, but look out for them in your favourite second-hand bookshop :

Books Mentioned

bulletChronicles of Amber (June 2000), published by Millenium for £7.99 with the usual discounts
bulletThe Visual Guide to Castle Amber (1988) by Roger Zelazny & Neil Randall, published by Avon Books

Further Reading

bulletThe Second Amber series concerning Corwin’s son Merlin :
Trumps of Doom (1985)
Blood of Amber (1986)
Sign of Chaos (1987)
Knight of Shadows (1989)
Prince of Chaos (1991)
bulletThe Illustrated Roger Zelazny (1978) – contains An Amber Tapestry, a series of full paged colour illustrations from Nine Princes in Amber
bulletLord of Light (1967) – this deservedly won a Hugo award
bulletJack of Shadows (1971)
bulletTo Die in Italbar (1973)
bulletZelazny is also noted for his short fiction. In particular :
The Doors of his Face, the Lamps of his Mouth (1965) and A Rose for Ecclesiastes (1963). Both have been reprinted in numerous short story collections
bulletHe also collaborated with a number of other authors. In particular :
Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny (1976)
bulletHe wrote numerous other works. Although of mixed quality, any of them are worth a try.

Good Reading,

Rod

 

Copyright : Roderick Alasdair Cameron 2001 - 2012                   rod@rodcameron.co.uk