“Chronicles of Amber” by Roger Zelazny

 The “Chronicles of Amber” have long been my dad’s example of what inspired him to write. He told us that Zelazny’s writing was so bad, he figured, “If he can get published, so can I.” And, at the same time, the story Zelazny was telling was so gripping he had no choice but continue.

Now, I’ve had an opportunity to form my own opinion. I agree about the story part…but the writing wasn’t that bad. If Zelazny had gotten an editor who could actually read, we’d have nothing to complain about.

But let’s talk about the story.

Who Is “I”?

Our first-person protagonist starts the story in a private medical institution, with no memory. As he makes his escape and tracks down his past, we’re eased into a fantasy world unlike any other.

Corwin is a good traveling companion. While he has to grow in several areas, he’s got enough deprecating humor, goodwill, and smarts to make us root for him.

Book 1 is Nine Princes in Amber…and that’s not even counting their sisters. So there’s a big cast of characters to get a handle on. However, many of them are scattered, letting us meet them a little at a time.

Trust Him Like a Brother…That Is To Say, Not At All

You like learning about the Romanovs? Fancy meeting a broad, sprawling family of princes, with their own cliches, personalities, and alliances…a family constantly trying to kill one another across an infinite spectrum of worlds, but who nevertheless are eager for the latest gossip about all their varied relations.

They’re as immoral as any other royal family. Casual sex intrudes on the story a couple times…but Zelazny does a decent job showing us the serious consequences such flippancy can have.

Brothers can go from trading comments to crossing swords at a moment’s notice…and at their next meeting, they might have returned to civility.

Ready to wrap your head around the tangled strands of alliances, plots, and deceits? The mystery might lead deeper than you think…

The World is Amber

In fact, Amber is the reality. Corwin and all his brothers are princes of Amber, while an infinite number of Shadows stream away from Amber, casting “realities” from the similar to the bizarre across creation.

And beyond all the Shadow worlds? Chaos. And the creatures of Chaos aren’t all too pleased to have Amber and its Shadows cutting in on their game.

But to say more might say too much.

It’s a Wild Hell-Ride

My dad has long told us about how the idea of Amber and Shadows captured his imagination. The description can be very evocative, indeed, as Corwin and the others travel between shadings from one distinct landscape to the next.

And as for the mystery they unravel? The deep plot that threatens to shatter Amber itself – that overshadows their struggle for the vacant throne? It is indeed a fascinating onion to unpeel. The royal machinations and reversals are gripping. And the final book, The Courts of Chaos, is nearly psychedelic as Corwin rides through bleak, philosophical landscapes, racing the surging storm of Chaos.

It’ll make sense once you read the book. (Well, most of it will, anyway.)

Caveats?

Is this story “mother-in-law safe“? Mostly. There’s a smattering of profanities, some violence, and (as I said) a few mild hook-ups.

It should be no surprise that long-living, powerful royalty who can do pretty much what they want aren’t super moral. Part of the satisfaction of the story, though, is to see them shift, discover new goals, change their focus outward, and transform.

Who is the ultimate king of Amber? I’m not telling…but it made me cheer.

The other thing to note is that the series is one continuous story arc. I’ve ranted before about cliff-hangers, so for the sake of intellectual integrity, be aware that each individual book (while containing a mini-arc) is much more about its place within the whole, than it is about the plot contained within each volume.

I’ve been pushing my brother to read it, but he still hasn’t.

Tell Your Sister. Dad Was Right.

Even if you’re not usually a fantasy person…or if the slew of generic “quest” fantasy has you jaded…pick it up. Tired of “chosen one heir-apparent” tropes? Pick it up.

Tired of vague medieval-era worlds? Discover worlds that are different from ours for a reason…and characters who are smart enough to work with those differences!

Was the writing a little clunky at times? At times…but like I said: if the editor had actually done his job, he would have caught the few places a word was missing, would have corrected a spelling or two, and the book would be that much more a cut above the rest.

How you phrase something is style. (Says the girl who frequently confuses her beta readers with “poetic” turns of phrase.)

Anyway…Why don’t you read it and find out for yourself?


The first book, Nine Princes in Amber, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and the Book Depository (as an audiobook).

You can also find all five books in one volume on Amazon (hardcover), or as a ten-book paperback from Barnes & Noble or the Book Depository (Note: I have only read the first series: Nine Princes in Amber, The Guns of Avalon, The Sign of the Unicorn, The Hand of Oberon, and The Courts of Chaos).

Cover image is from this five-book collection, via the Book Depository.

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“Bells of Paradise” by Suzannah Rowntree

"Bells of Paradise" by Suzannah Rowntree — Kimia Wood — fairytales The fairytales of modern times tend to be, well, modern. They are full of princesses in fluffy tulle dresses, and fairies with wimpy wings that wouldn’t lift a butterfly — and fairies that grant wishes to all and sundry without making any demands.

You would have to go to Andrew Lang or the Grimm brothers for the strange fairytale punishments of being rolled in a barrel of nails until dead – or to meet fay-people (cp. to “in a fay mood”) as grotesque and magical as a gothic cathedral – or to see the fairy food that can only be eaten at the forfeit of your soul.

And where could you find a hero as noble as he is faithful, who is drawn into the quest through no fault of his own – a romantic hero with a remarkably steady head on his shoulders – who ends the tale triumphant, unsullied, and glorified? No fairytale of modern craft would portray that, surely…heroes must be “flawed” to be “realistic”.

Ms. Rowntree has changed that. Continue reading

Get More Than You Pay For With Free Books

Get More Than You Pay For With Free Books

Over the past year or so, I’ve been downloading and reading free ebooks from a number of sources – partly because I have a weakness for free, partly because I want to find greats reads for you that you don’t have to shell out a penny for!

But sometimes “you get what you pay for”. Sometimes a book is free because we wouldn’t slog through it for any other reason.

Is that the rule? Are the reading-gems the exception? I’ve dug back through my review archives to figure out which books are worth reading (and worth paying for, even if I didn’t have to).

Note: All deals are listed as of this writing. Authors naturally have the prerogative to change how they charge for their works. By that same token, some books that I loved but couldn’t list because they didn’t qualify might become free again later 😉! Continue reading

“Poison Kiss” by Kendra E. Ardnek

Poison Kiss by Kendra Ardnek — Kimia Wood — fairytale You must pick up a fairytale with open eyes. The well-worn road to fairyland is practically paved with princesses, curses, and talking cats. Yet for those not too “grown-up” to venture into the land of fairies, ogres, and millers’ sons, Poison Kiss offers a quick, entertaining read that delivers exactly to genre.

Everyone’s heard of the “Sleeping Beauty” story, so when the king hears that his daughter is to fill the role in the next cycle of the tale, he deliberately snubs the evil fairy and prepares to ban all spinning wheels.

When the fairy responsible for the curse brings originality to the course of events and switches the cure for the curse, the horrified kingdom is left to fear “love’s first kiss” – and wonder how a spinning wheel will help reverse the whole thing. Continue reading

“Grim Fandango: Remastered”

There’s something rotten in the Land of the Dead. Manny Calavera, travel agent to the recently deceased, is desperate for a big commission so he can pay off his dues to the “powers that be” and start his own “four year journey of the soul.”

When he tampers with the system to steal a client from his rival, he falls into an adventure that will have him pointing-and-clicking all over this hilarious Mexican-inspired landscape. Continue reading

Eris: The Tale of the Story

Let me tell you a story. It’s a story about a story.

July 6, 2009, is the date I have recorded that the story first emerged as recognizably itself:

Eris: the Tale of the Story — Kimia Wood — story

How we did story-boarding in the dark ages.

A human prince – Eris – is banished and branded, but accompanied on his wanderings by his elf and dwarf best friends.

As I usually do, I took the seed to my dad, who is an expert in taking my infantile premises and giving them plots. Continue reading

“She But Sleepeth” by Rachel Heffington

Peles Castle, Romania — courtesy of Gabi Jguma/Wikipedia

Sleeping Beauty is a set designer working for Hollywood. A Romanian gypsy casts spells of time-travel and death. An estranged royal couple mourn the loss of their only child. And the hunky love interest exhibits self-sacrificial love.

Yet, for whatever confluence of cosmic misdemeanors, all the raging richness of this story potential totally fizzled when it hit the dour surface of my consciousness. Continue reading

“Top Ten” Steps to My Bookshelf

Top Ten Tuesday, the weekly list-event hosted by the “Broke and the Bookish” blog, has as its theme for today “Top Ten Things That Will Make Me Instantly Want To Read A Book.”

In roughly ascending order:

Things that make me click the link/pick it up:

1. Good cover/Catchy title

Continue reading

Ten Books to Read in One Sitting

The Top Ten Tuesday topic for this week is “Read In One Sitting Theme”. I’ve filed my choices into three categories: stories that drag you along, begging to be read all at once; stories whose length and format suit them to comprehensive reading; and stories suited to periods of interrupted reading time.

Gripping Stories

Rats-of-NIMH-51q9wWLOq4L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O’Brian

We used this as our bedtime story once. Mr. O’Brian puts his chapter breaks in exactly the right places – in a way. While we didn’t quite finish it in one read-through, the story pulled us along from chapter to chapter, long past when Dad had first said, “Well, just one more.”

Continue reading

“Necromancer Awakening” by Nat Russo

NecAwake_61Av9vyX4AL I’ll admit Necromancer Awakening has one of the most gripping opening chapters I’ve seen. Nicholas Murray, archeology student, is getting ready for his adoptive father’s funeral – a man who took him on as a teenager and got him where he is now – when supernatural visions cloud his sight and he’s sucked into another world before his girlfriend’s eyes.

I’m afraid the first third of the book was a struggle to get through. While I acknowledge that being yanked away from everything you’ve ever known would be stressful and disorienting, the cliché of whiny, clueless protagonists and grumpy, impatient mentor-figures gets old fast. Continue reading