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.)
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?
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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