Thoughts on the Great Book of Amber

My thanks go to Feidor S. LaView for reminding me of the Amber Chronicles of Roger Zelazny, whom he regards as one of the prominent influences on his writing.  My introduction to the Amber Chronicles came by way of the Science Fiction Book Club.  Though their description of the series intrigued me, it took stumbling recently onto the collected novels in Barnes & Nobles for me to finally purchase it.  At $25 for a collection of ten novels, The Great Book of Amber stands as one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.

Capture

At the time of writing this, I have finished two novels and have started the third.  This series does several things well.  First, Zelazny employs an interesting concept for his parallel worlds.  Amber is the true world, while all the other worlds are shadow worlds pointing to Amber.  (Anyone else find this blatantly Platonic?)  The lack of reality in the shadow worlds allow our heroes to use magic within them but not in their home world of Amber.  By the way, our main characters are princes of Amber, whose longevity and physical abilities are comparable to Greek heroes and gods.  Are they immortal?  As of now, we know not whether any have died of old age, but two have been killed and the father of our heroes seems to be wasting away in seclusion.  The disappearance of their father without clear instructions as to who was to lead in his absence prompted the princes and princesses to vie for the crown.

Among the princess, Prince Corwin acts as the story’s main protagonist.  Neither exactly a traditional hero nor an anti-hero, Zelazny does a brilliant job of making us identify with him.  First, he’s lived countless centuries in exile on our home world, not knowing that he’s a prince of Amber.  At the very beginning of the action, this makes him know as little about the intrigues surrounding Amber as we do.  He also has rather American sensibilities due to his centuries long exile in our world.  In particular, he is inclined toward mercy–unlike others of his brothers.  Corwin discovers his brother Eric to be a mortal enemy and a chief contender for the crown.  He decides that he cannot let Eric succeed.  Thus begins his quest for the crown.  A very well-rounded and interesting character.

Fencing

The swordplay, political intrigue, word play, and literary allusions add delight to the reader’s experience of these novels.  Zelazny has an expertise in making the swordplay intense.  His facility in using correct fencing terms for each movement adds to the realism of the duels.  Parts of the novel become very cerebral as Corwin attempts to gain the throne without dying and to discover the purposes of his brothers.  The author’s style displays some excellent use of similes and literary allusions; e.g. “I could not hate thee, Eric, so much, had I not loved Amber more”–an obvious allusion to Richard Lovelace’s To Lucasta, Going to the Wars.

Well, there you have the reasons I love this series, my dear readers.  Also, the obvious influence of Raymond Chandler on the prose and conversations is pretty cool.  It somehow manages to fit very well in fantasy.  Fans of the fantasy genre can’t do without giving these novels a shot!

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4 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Great Book of Amber

  1. That’s great! I’ve got really fond memories of those books and I am happy to see somebody else is enjoying them.

  2. Kevin King says:

    Roger Zelazny entertained philosophical systems in his writing as a means of conveying an interesting story through a specific lens for intended effect. For instance, his book “Lord of Light” enjoys some allusions to the Bhagavad Gita, Gautama Buddha, Christianity, and how it plays out into a technological dichotomy between those of the lower caste and the persons with access to technology at a level that makes them appear as gods to others. What Zelazny does more beautifully than any other author I’ve read is tie together the elements of fantasy, science fiction, the surreal, the unreal, and real world. Roger doesn’t build a story or a world so much as he builds a poetic mythos. As George R.R. Martin put it, “His words sang.”

    • Hi, Kevin! I’ve yet to pick up on all the influences present in these novels, but Zelazny strikes me as a highly intelligent author. I’m looking forward to reading more of his novels.

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