Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny (Part Two of the Series Review)

Posted by Lilith at Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny

The Merlin Cycle

The second part of the Amber Chronicles by Roger Zelazny again features first-person narration but this time by a different character, Merlin. In the first review I did of Roger Zelazny’s Amber series, I covered the first five books where Corwin is the main character.

I suggest that readers start with Nine Princes in Amber (the first book) and then continue through The Guns of Avalon, Sign of the Unicorn, The Hand of Oberon and The Courts of Chaos before reading the first Merlin book, Trumps of Doom. Though, if you do start with Merlin’s books, you can still understand what is happening and enjoy the books.

Fans are somewhat divided as to the Merlin books (Trumps of Doom, Blood of Amber, Sign of Chaos, Knight of Shadows and Prince of Chaos). I personally love these books as much as I love the Corwin books but from what I can tell, most prefer Corwin over Merlin.

Mysteries and magic

The series begins with various mysteries. Merlin’s father has been missing for a very long time, someone attempts to kill Merlin every April 30th and now his former girlfriend is found dead from magical means.

Merlin is a sorcerer and a scion of both Amber and the Courts of Chaos. He can shape shift, wield Chaos magic and Shadow walk (move among the various alternate realities in the universe). He has a certain special project he is working on that melds the power of the Trumps, a kind of teleportation portal between places and worlds, and computers. Did I mention that he is a computer programmer?

Trying to figure out all of these mysteries and protect the interests of both Amber and Chaos take up much of the book. I enjoyed Merlin’s adventures a lot, especially as he travels to a wide variety of exotic locations not seen in the earlier books, including various places in and around Amber, the Courts of Chaos, the Keep of the Four Worlds and, most importantly, a Lewis Carroll bar. I would love the series if it had nothing else but that bar but thankfully there are many things to enjoy.

Not everything is as it seems

Since it is an Amber book, various labyrinthine plots unfold as Merlin has to find a way through his relatives’ power plays and Machiavellian schemes. Luke, who is Merlin’s best friend, a crackerjack salesman and a very dangerous man, practically steals the show from Merlin each time he appears. Other interesting characters include the same princes and princesses of Amber from the earlier books and new ones from the Courts of Chaos.

Compared to the Corwin-centered books, the Merlin books have more of a young adventurous man vibe rather than a “kick ass immortal” vibe. I heartily recommend this series to all fantasy fans.


I shook out my cloak and brushed myself off. I traveled for perhaps half an hour then, leaving the place far behind me, before I halted and took my breakfast in a hot, bleak valley smelling faintly of sulfur.

As I was finishing, I heard a crashing noise. A horned and tusked purple thing went racing along the ridge to my right pursued by a hairless orange-skinned creature with long claws and a forked tail. Both were wailing in different keys.

I nodded. It was just one damned thing after another.

The Basics

What it has:

a magic computer, fathers, sons, mothers, scheming relatives, swords, wrestling, Chaos magic, spells, shape shifting, revenge, rescue, imprisonment, assassination, politics, school, sex, affairs, food, cooking, alcohol, drugs, bars, stalkers, friendship, diplomacy, music, drums, creation, destruction, mystery, body snatching

What it doesn’t have:

goth, emo, boredom, immortal ennui, soul mates, monks, vampire slayers, lawyers, zombies, Evil Overlord of Doom, sniffing, braid-tugging, spanking, Vikings

A special note: The ending is very open and Roger Zelazny unfortunately died before he could write more books. Merlin’s cycle does end in a natural ending-beginning point so I am personally satisfied.

Another special note: After Zelazny died, his estate hired John Betancourt to write another series set in the Amber universe. I do not recommend those books.

Amazon Link

The Great Book of Amber: The Complete Amber Chronicles, 1-10 (Chronicles of Amber)


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