The Great Book of Amber by Roger Zelazny – A Review

Oh dear where can I begin with this monster. Normally its easy for me to really get a grasp on how to start, but this tome is 10 books in one. Thats right, 10 bloody books in one volume. So I am going to do my best to give it the treatment it deserves.

If you want the short answer: GO READ THESE BOOKS. Find the Anthology, and go.

Now then, I suppose the best place would be a rough description of the tome. And make no mistake, it is a TOME. You see, the Book of Amber is the collected works of Roger Zelazny, and houses his Chronicles of Amber. It goes under a few different names, but seeing as how I read the Omnibus edition titled The Great Book of Amber, I figured I would discuss that here.

Firstly, this houses 10 total novels, split into two “cycles”

The first 5 are the Corwin cycle, and are:

– Nine Princes in Amber
– The Guns of Avalon
– Sign of the Unicorn
– The Hand of Oberon
– The Courts of Chaos

These five detail the story of Corwin, a Prince of Amber. What is Amber I can hear you asking? Well! Amber is no less then the center AND the only real point in the known universe.

The basica idea behind the world is that Amber is the center of the Universe, and everything beyond Amber is nothing more then a Shadow cast by Amber. Our universe is one such Shadow, and its where Corwin begins his journey. From there he deals with other members of his family as well as a great black Road, trying to determine what happened to his father Oberon, and a few other insane mysteries as well as the forces of Chaos.

Its very much a product of its time. Written in 1970, it has the trappings of detective noir, lots of smoking and drinking and instrospective moments. The world building is fantastic as well. You get a real sense of Amber, and its environs, and Corwin’s family. The one that sticks out in my mind are Brand and Ran, and Benedict. Corwin’s family are basically superhumans. Almost all of them are tougher then a normal man, faster, and devious to a fault. Corwin remarks requently that the family is not a very “close” one. Lots of backstabbing here.

Without spoiling too much, the series starts with Corwin awakening in a mental hospital in upstate New York with no memory of who he is. He manages to escape, find the person who had put him there, and from there begins the process of unrvaelling his memories as well as the intricate plots and politics of being a Prince of Amber.

Another thing that is very prominent in the series is the Pattern. At the very center of everything lies the Pattern in Amber. This is basically a huge pattern that houses the very Stuff of Reality. To show you are a Prince or Princess of Amber, to gain the ability to Walk the Shadows (which is how they access the various realities of the Multiverse) you must survive walking the Pattern. Corwin does it to prove he is who he says he is at one point.

The Corwin Quintet is a great read but can be a bit hard to get through. The prose is dense and you can miss things if you read too quickly. Further, there are layers and layers of interaction. But its a page turner make no mistake. And by the end you will have things ending in a satisfactory way.

The second 5 books are the Merlin Cycle, and are:

– Trumps of Doom
– Blood of Amber
– Signs of Chaos
– Knight of Shadows
– Prince of Chaos

The first of these books was wrriten in 85, and shows a very different style and tone when compared to the first five. While the first five came off as a Noir / Detective styled story, this came off more action oriented, almost like a Hacker novel. Merlin is the son of Corwin, and a Prince of both Chaos and Amber.

He has walked both the Pattern in Amber, and the opposite, the Logrus, in Chaos. He is a being of both worlds, and strives in the books to try to save both from destroying themselves as well as the very fabric of the universe. He also creates his own AI in the form of Ghost, a machine who thinks of him as its father and tries to help him out.

I found this group of stories to be…less interesting then the first. Perhaps it was fatigue that got to me here. I am not sure. But I can promise you they are still worth your time and by the end of the 10 books the whole world felt nice and complete, and the story done.

I would rate this Omnibus a solid 4.5/5. I urge you, if you are interested in a different sort of Fantasy, to give this a read. Yes, its going to take you a LONG time, but its worth it all the way till the end.

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