The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny
Review by Stuart E Wise
Amber is one real world, casting infinite reflections of itself – shadow worlds, which can be manipulated by those of royal Amberite blood. But the royal family is torn apart by jealousies and suspicion; the disappearance of the patriarch, Oberon has intensified the internal conflict by leaving the throne apparently up for grabs; and amnesia has robbed Corwin, Crown Prince of Amber his memory – even the fact that he is the rightful heir to the throne.
When I was asked to review ‘Chronicles of Amber’ I have to admit I was a little nervous. After all, it is part of the ‘Fantasy Masterworks’ series and could therefore be worthy of a place in the Fantasy canon. Roger Zelazny won numerous awards for his work, and critical acclaim from reviewers far more knowledgeable than I. So how do you review something that is supposed to be among ‘the greatest and most influential fantasy ever written?’
‘Honestly,’ is the only answer that suffices to that question.
‘The Chronicles of Amber’ is a compilation of five Amber stories, beginning with ‘Nine Princes in Amber.’ These stories are told from the point of view of Corwin, Prince of Amber and heir to the throne, who at the start of the first book has lost his memory.
These chronicles tell Corwin’s tale as he battles, first to regain his memory and then his rightful place within Amber. Zelazny weaves a wonderful tale of magic and sibling rivalry, Brothers and sisters forging and breaking alliances to further their own ends, with multiple twists in the plot along the way.
Zelazny has created a universe, where the only true world is Amber set upon the real Earth, which lies at the centre of all things and casts Shadows. Every possibility exists somewhere as a Shadow of the real world. There are an infinite number of parallel universes and the more different they are from the real Amber, the more difficult they are to find or to get to.
Corwin’s family have the ability to manipulate the Shadows, travelling from one to the next, and forcing it to conform to their will, until the shape of the world pleases them. This gives them the status of demigods to some of the more primitive species within the Shadow worlds, providing some with resources of manpower and raw materials to create powerful kingdoms of their own.
However, at the centre of everything is Amber itself and with the King, Oberon missing presumed dead, it is the centre of the struggle for power between Corwin and his family.
So, what do I think of the book?
The standard of the writing is generally excellent, the plot and characters are ground-breaking and the magic systems and structure and the overall ideas are incredibly complex. The cards and the patterns were brilliant and the story itself moves along at a good pace.
However, I did have a number of issues with the book. Firstly, that I was quite able to put it down and leave it alone for days at a time, which is never a good thing for me. I am an avid reader, I devour books across multiple genres although Fantasy is my favourite. Once I start a story and get into it I miss meals and sleep until I get to the end. That didn’t happen here, because of the second reason. Some sections were so complex, mainly those where Zelazny was describing the manipulation and travelling through Shadow, that I had to read and re-read paragraphs multiple times to be sure that I followed where he was going.
That may of course merely demonstrate my limitations as a reader, but for me those sections were too wordy – especially when other sections really drew me in. Being jerked out of a story because the writer made it difficult to follow a paragraph or two is extremely frustrating, especially when I know that Zelazny’s skill as a writer should have enabled him to simplify those sections.
I appreciate that others may love the way that he has crafted those paragraphs, but they spoilt my experience.
The final thing that I didn’t particularly like about the book was Corwin himself. At the start – fantastic, a man with no memory; perfectly written. But once he starts to get his powers back, move through the Shadows and become more and more amoral, I found it harder and harder to relate to him and once I didn’t care what happened to him, it was over. I finished the book because of the review, not because I wanted to find out what happened to him and I doubt that I will ever pick it up off the shelf again.
So in conclusion, this is a brilliantly written book, with amazing ideas and well worth its place in the fantasy masterworks series. I didn’t particularly like it, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth reading – once anyway.
8.4/10, Stuart E Wise, 24th July 2012
The Chronicles of Amber is Zelazny’s finest fantasy, a grand imaginative vision of alternate worlds, magic, swordplay, and murderous rivalries.
Roger Zelazny (1937 – 1995)
His first sf story, ‘Passion Play’, appeared in Amazing Stories in 1962, the same year he graduated from Columbia with an M.A. He rose quickly to prominence, winning two Nebula awards in 1965 and Hugo awards for Best Novel in 1966 and 1968. He then started the 10 book Amber sequence. His short fiction continued to receive critical acclaim, winning four further Hugo awards.
This book is part of the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks series, a library of some of the greatest, most original and most influential fantasy ever written. These are the books that along with Tolkien, Peake and others, shaped modern fantasy.
‘The Chronicles of Amber’ is Fantasy Masterworks volume 6 and contains 5 of Zelazny’s Amber tales:
- ‘Nine Princes in Amber’ (1970)
- ‘The Guns of Avalon’ (1972)
- ‘Sign of the Unicorn’ (1975)
- ‘The Hand of Oberon’ (1976) and
- ‘The Courts of Chaos‘ (1978)
“Zelazny’s stories are fabulous! I genuinely envy anyone who has not read them and is about to.” Theodore Sturgeon
“Zelazny, telling of gods and wizards, uses magical words as if he himself was a wizard.” Philip Jose Farmer.
“The Amber series is daring and magnificent.” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
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