Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Great Book of Amber, by Roger Zelazny

The Great Book of Amber: The Complete Amber Chronicles, 1-10, by Roger Zelazny

I’d read the first half of this famous fantasy saga as a kid but only vague memories remained. I saw the collected novels in a single volume on a bargain table and decided to reacquaint myself and complete the cycle. Ten novels describing the serial drama of a feuding family with the ability to travel among multiple universes. The first five novels follow Corwin, an amnesiac magician discovering his heritage; the second five follow Merlin, Corwin’s son, as he becomes a pawn in the war for power between the Courts of Chaos and Amber. The first arc is much more compelling, with the magic and mystery at the forefront. The second arc was clearly written later, with the protagonist being a computer programmer as well as a magician. The characters are largely one-dimensional, but as with most quality soap operas this usual detraction is somehow made to work—largely because of the Machiavellian nature of the family and the sheer delight they seem to take in their schemes.

Zelany’s writing isn’t very complicated, and at times downright simplistic. The best example of this is in The Hand of Oberon where Corwin embarks on a wild ride between worlds. “Rising once more. . . . The fogs lower and ebb. . . . Grass, grass, grass. . . . Clear now the sky, and delicate blue. . . . A sun racing to set. . . . Birds. . . . A cow in the field, chewing, staring and chewing. . . .” Several pages exactly like this, the very definition of rambling. The lack of sophistication doesn’t really detract from the overall story threads between the novels though, and in fact is quite funny in some places: “While sex heads a great number of lists, we all have other things we like to do in between.”

Overall, this mix of science-fiction and fantasy tropes is a lot of fun. Uneven at times, but the cunning and sly characters and their devious schemes make for an entertaining read. The ten books clock in at just over 1,200 pages so this is a relatively quick read, especially when compared to the seven book, 4,100+ pages of the vastly inferior Harry Potter series. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this as an introduction to the overall genre, but if you already love fantasy/sci-fi then you should check this out.

First Sentence from Nine Princes in Amber:
It was starting to end, after what seemed most of eternity to me.
First Sentence from The Guns of Avalon:
I stood there on the beach and said, “Good-by, Butterfly,” and the ship slowly turned, then headed out toward deep water.
First Sentence from Sign of the Unicorn:
I ignored the questions in the eyes of the groom as I lowered the grisly parcel and turned the horse in for care and maintenance.
First Sentence from The Hand of Oberon:
A bright flash of insight, to match that peculiar sun...
First Sentence from The Courts of Chaos:
Amber: high and bright atop Kolvir in the middle of the day.
First Sentence from Trumps of Doom:
It is a pain in the ass waiting around for someone to try to kill you.
First Sentence from Blood of Amber:
My life had been relatively peaceful for eight years—not counting April thirtieths, when someone invariably tried to kill me.
First Sentence from Sign of Chaos:
I felt vaguely uneasy, though I couldn’t say why.
First Sentence from Knight of Shadows:
Her name was Julia, and I’d been damn certain she was dead back on April 30 when it all began.
First Sentence from Prince of Chaos:
See one coronation and you’ve seen them all.

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