Roger Zelazny,
The Great Book of Amber
(Avon/EOS, 1999)

Nine Princes in Amber (1972)
The Guns of Avalon (1974)
Sign of the Unicorn (1976)
The Hand of Oberon (1977)
The Courts of Chaos (1979)
Trumps of Doom (1986)
Blood of Amber (1987)
Sign of Chaos (1988)
Knight of Shadows (1990)
Prince of Chaos (1992)

This is a great tome. As the "Complete Amber Chronicles 1-10," it allows for a continuity which reading separate novels can hinder. You go from one novel to the next without any breaks, allowing Roger Zelazny's masterpiece to flow smoothly and with as little distraction as possible. And it all fits together like it was written as one novel, which is an amazing feat when one considers the story and time it took to write in its entirety!

Zelazny created the world of Amber, the true center of all, a place which we are just a mere shadow of. It's a place born of magic, a place of deep intrigue and murderous plots, with a royal family supposedly spawned from the union of a wizard and a unicorn. From Amber springs all other "shadows," and if you borrow Charles de Lint's view of the world as an onion you can see the intrinsic layers, one upon the other ... reflections of this one true center.

At the very center is the Pattern, a complex design which allows those who walk it to access the magic within their blood. However, the Pattern is not as simple as it may sound. Only those with the blood of Amber in their veins may walk it, and they may not stop or veer from the path. Doing so is death. As they move along it, the trial gets increasingly harder, until it takes every ounce of their being to continue to the end. Once they have done this, family members can use this pattern to transport themselves elsewhere, allowing them to twist and turn shadow and go where they will.

The Pattern has an opposite -- the Logrus in the heart of the Courts of Chaos. The family also has a special means of communication and travel. Cards, known as Trumps and quite similar to those you would find in a tarot deck, are drawn of family members -- concentrating on one will open contact with the other party, allowing a conversation or travel in either direction through the card -- and places, allowing transport to that particular scene. This adds a deeper level of plotting to the game!

Sadly, Zelazny passed away in the summer of 1995, and we will never know if there was to be more of Amber's story. There are 10 novels, five dealing with Prince Corwin of Amber and five focusing on his son, Merlin. All are complete and wonderful adventures on their own, but put together it is a magical tale of epic proportions which will keep the mind enthralled for a few days, at the very least! As in all of his works, Zelazny has created a strong believable world, one which could very easily exist without our knowledge, populated with characters with strong personalities, familiar characters who are reflections of humanity at its worst and best!

Nine Princes in Amber introduces us to Prince Corwin, who awakens in a hospital with no idea who he is or where he is, or why. Relying on instinct and the little pieces he can put together in puzzle fashion, Corey takes us along with him on an incredible journey through personal hell. The journey leads from this Shadow Earth to Amber, and introduces us to his "loving" family -- where Corwin is blinded and thrown in the dungeons after witnessing his brother Eric's coronation. Talk about murderous family politics!

In The Guns of Avalon we are taken to a shadow of one of Corwin's favorite places -- a place where a weapon against Amber can be found. There, his brother Benedict is the guardian against the evil from the Courts of Chaos, an evil which could render the fabric of reality were it to win the war. Following his escape, Corwin begins to plot some very serious vengeance upon Eric, current Lord of Amber. It seems that Corwin and Chaos will work quietly together for a time, as their desired ends are similar, and the bloody battle finishes with unexpected results at Mount Kolvir, in Amber.

The Children of Oberon have to work grudgingly together in Sign of the Unicorn in order to win over Chaos. As brother Random is now Amber's Lord and Liege, Corwin is free to battle Chaos in his own manner, and he knows that the problems facing their world now have much to do with the past. In this novel, Corwin also sees the mythical unicorn, Amber's patron animal -- and if the stories are true, a relative. The unicorn leads Corwin to a special place, one he never knew existed -- the REAL Amber and the original magical pattern which all must walk to gain their power. Sadly, only those of the blood may do so without fear of immediate death.

The next novel brings us even more intrigue. The Hand of Oberon shows us that the father who was supposedly vanished or dead, has been there all along, posing as Ganelon, Corwin's friend, in order to see who among his children would be best upon the throne. As the dire problem of the Courts of Chaos faces them, Oberon's children do not let him down. The pattern has been damaged, the blood of Amber has been spilled upon it. Corwin must race against time, enemies and even family in order to save their world. A corrupt pattern will allow only evil, and the end of the world is drawing nigh.

The Courts of Chaos show us just how deviously twisted this family can be. They plot against each other on an almost continual basis, and it would appear that now some have actually sided with Chaos against Amber. Corwin must fight Amberites, shadow beings, Chaosites and his very self sometimes in order to maintain the truth and hopefully prevail for Amber's sake. The pattern must be repaired, for it has become a power bearing only death before it. The Pattern and the Logrus begin their own fight for supremacy. And the plot thickens and twists some more, and Corwin rides off into the sunset.

Corwin's son Merlin, who is both of the blood of Amber and of Chaos, becomes the focal point of the tale as we move into Trumps of Doom. The poor young man has had someone try to kill him every April 30 for a number of years, and so far he has managed to outwit them and stay alive. However, this year holds something completely different in store, something not even Merlin could have planned for. Merlin is torn from all he once thought he knew, all he thought safe; his best friend is apparently an enemy. Plots abound, and trying to come up with the answers to the problems on your own is impossible, as Zelazny's genius shows itself again and again. One of the few constants is the missing father; Corwin hasn't been seen or heard from in a very long time.

Blood of Amber begins with Merlin in a reflective mood as he is imprisoned in a crystal cave, which blocks all of his power. He has lost his girlfriend Julia, his best friend Luke, and reality. A sub-plot from another source allows Merlin his freedom, and then he begins to piece it all together. The computer which Merlin designed, Ghostwheel, has the ability to move through shadow, and comes to the attention of Random, Lord of Amber, as a dangerous tool. Merlin ends up battling against the machine which calls him Father, alongside the friend who tried to kill him, in an effort to save the world. Is Ghostwheel the real enemy, though, or is it someone else?

If anyone has ever wondered what it would be like to be a wizard on a really bad drug trip, Sign of Chaos will answer all your questions! It gets rather odd, especially when the characters from Alice in Wonderland merge right in alongside the ones from Chaos! This time it is Luke who is in trouble, and past differences (as well as present ones) aside, Merlin must try to save him. The two can become a deadly unit if they work together and try to vanquish the ones who has been toying with them for years, along with the new threat of the Mask, an unknown magician. Sadly, the Courts of Chaos are no different from Amber, really. The families fight and plot against one another, and everything is fair game! To top it all off, Merlin's half-brother is out to kill him as well, and it would seem there is no safe refuge to be found.

Knight of Shadows brings some answers to Merlin and Luke. The Mask is a sorcerer out to kill them, and the identity of this nasty villain is finally learned! The plotting which has been going on is phenomenal; nobody is to be trusted in Chaos and nobody much in Amber, either. To make matters even worse, Merlin finds out that his own mother has set a Ty'iga to watch over him and protect him. A demon being with the ability to take over bodies can be pretty dangerous to have as an enemy, or as a friend. This one, wearing many faces, has been a lover of both Luke and Merlin. Will the pair survive, even with the aid of Ghostwheel and the Ty'iga?

A stunningly brilliant conclusion to all the political and personal intrigues and plots is reached in the final novel, Prince of Chaos. Merlin is caught in a very effective trap; he has a choice -- he can die, or he can fight, live and become the Lord of Chaos. The latter is what his mother and brother would wish, to rule as their pawn. Merlin must come to terms with his Chaos half of the family's betrayal, and the choices he has laid in front of him. Meanwhile, there is still the unsolved mystery of his father's whereabouts, and the identity of the Mask to be solved. As always, Zelazny provides a stunning conclusion, carefully tying all the loose ends together so that the reader is fully satisfied.

If you haven't read them yet, I suggest you find a copy of this wonderful book and sit and read to your heart's content! Amber is a wonderful place to explore, and with such an insightful and witty guide as Zelazny, it is a pleasure to tour this realm. The Great Book of Amber contains all ten of the Amber novels in their original forms, complete and uncut. A sad but glowing testament of Zelazny's prowess in the literary world, this series will always be a marker in the world of the fantasy and science fiction, something the rest will have to measure up to!

[ by Naomi de Bruyn ]
Rambles: 4 August 2001

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