Friday, September 28, 2012

The Great Book of Amber, Roger Zelazney

Today I am going back to one of the best, most enjoyable series of books I ever read, and that is a series of books by Roger Zelazney called 'The Great Book of Amber'. I started reading this series with the first book, Nine Princes in Amber back in 1970 when it was first published. He was a man ahead of his time, who believed that if there exists an infinite number of worlds, then every world that can be imagined must exist, somewhere. He wrote his tales based on that conviction, and this series explores that hypothesis more clearly than any other of his works.

This is a big, sweeping fantasy, and is definitely a macho take on the current mores of the1970s. Machismo aside, this is one of the best fantasy series ever written, and modern writers would do well to read Zelazney's work. The series begins with the classic, 'Nine Princes in Amber.'

Told in the first person, a man wakes up in a private hospital, knowing that he is not as injured as the nurses say he is, and that he is being drugged into cooperating. Suffering from amnesia, he removes the casts on his legs, beats up an orderly who is out to stop him from leaving at any cost, steals the orderly's clothes and forces his way into the physician-in-charge's office, where he demands to be released.  The Dr. refuses and pulls a gun on him.  Our hero swiftly and efficiently disarms the doctor.  He discovers he is booked into a place called 'Greenwood Private hospital' under the name of Carl Corey.  He has apparently been booked there by his sister, a Mrs. Evelyn Flaumel. Both names feel false to him.

Desperate to discover his past Carl 'settles out of court' with the doctor who has been holding him against his will, and travels to 'Evelyn's' address which was listed in his file. She is surprised to see him, and drops hints that suggest she thinks he has regained his memory. Hiding his lack of knowledge about what she is saying, he convinces her to let him stay. In a desk in her library he locates a set of customised Tarot cards— called the Trumps—whose Major Arcana are replaced with images which he recognises as his family. As he looks over the cards he remembers all his brothers and sisters: sneaky Random, Julian the hunter, well-built GĂ©rard, the arrogant Eric, himself, Benedict the master tactician and swordsman, sinister Caine, scheming Bleys, and the mysterious Brand. He also views his four sisters: Flora who offered him sanctuary, Deirdre who was dear to him, reserved Llewella, and Fiona, whom Carl (who now knows his name is Corwin) hated. Still, his memory is very spotty, and he has no idea what is really going on or how he ended up in the hospital.

His brother Random calls Flora's house via telephone and is dumbfounded when Corwin answers it.  Corwin promises to give him protection, although he has no idea from what or whom. Random arrives, pursued by mysterious spined, bloodshot-eyed humanoid creatures, and the combined efforts of Corwin, Random, and Flora's dogs ultimately defeat them. This is only the beginning of Corwin's struggle. He and Random set out on a ride (Random still doesn't know he is faking his memory).  There are more battles with strange beasts and in the end Corwin is shown and walks the Pattern, a labyrinth inscribed in the dungeons of Castle Amber which gives the multiverse its order. He can't get to Amber, but he instead walks the one in in Rebma, the first shadow away from Amber.

These books comprise a sweeping tale of the lust for power and the way absolute power corrupts.  There is intense love, brotherly hate and sibling against sibling vying for the crown of their missing father, Oberon, King of Amber. 

Every sort of evil brothers can do to each other, these nine princes do, and yet they love/hate each other obsessively.  The entire family is split into several groups, two of whom are vying to claim their missing fathers throne; one group is backing Corwin; and the other group is backing his older but slightly less legitimate brother Eric, and the third switching sides when it looks more profitable for them to back Eric rather than Corwin.  Corwin is considered to be a cruel and selfish man, and indeed he has been exactly that. His oldest brother Benedict doesn't trust him to rule Amber well, as he once ruled a shadow called Avalon poorly when he was very young and is remembered there as a despot.  Corwin wants to convince Benedict he has changed, but it is a losing battle, as things keep happening that make him appear to be murderous and power mad.

If you are looking for sheer adventure which makes no apologies for it's blatant misogyny, this is the series for you.  I loved it, but then I freely admit to being fatally attracted to the bad boys of the world. I have read every book Zelazney ever wrote before his untimely death in 1995.   Other books which were landmark books for me were 1971's immortal 'Jack of Shadows' and 1979's classic tale of a road-trip gone to extremes,  'Roadmarks'.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Darkness Rising 2 -Quest; Ross M Kitson


 As are most fantasy addicts, I love a good series; something I can get my teeth into. But I also like to know there will be some resolution, at some point and Ross M. Kitson has delivered on all points so far with his Darkness Rising Series. 

In Darkness Rising book 1 - Chained,  by indie author Ross M. Kitson, we met Emelia. Born with strange silver-grey eyes, Emelia is trapped in servitude to uncaring and haughty masters. Technically she is a ‘hired servant’ and not a slave, but the family who ‘employs’ her and others like her, own her body and soul.   It is a harsh and unforgiving life for a girl who hears voices which counsel rebellion; a girl who who frequently crosses the line and forgets her place through no fault of her own.  Even so, she has friends and loved ones within the servant community, and even a wistful romantic interest. Because of her eyes, she is called ‘Star-Eyed’, and it is suspected that one of her ancestors was actually a ‘Subaquan’ or a merman. Events happen to Emelia and she finds herself caught up in them, unable to control them or to avoid the punishments that surely follow.

The family that employs her, the Ebon-Farrs are members of an elite and highly-placed nobility with many important connections. They are also possessed of an item, a Crystal that the Arch-mage, Inkas-Tarr desires and plans to steal. Inkas also desires to possess Emelia, and he makes a bargain with the Ebon-Farrs to purchase her. Arch-mage Inkas is the highest ranking Elemental master and he sees something in her that he wishes to have at his enclave to study.

Before that can happen, she inadvertently runs afoul of Uthor Ebon-Farr, the arrogant son of the house, and strange powers emerge within her, but she is unaware of what has happened, only that strange things are happening to her, and that she is punished severely for the events that she had no control over.

On the night that she makes her escape from her masters, Emelia meets two men, Hunor and Jem, who are attempting to steal the very crystal that Arch-mage Inkas has also sent a thief after. Things begin to really go awry, but it turns out that Emelia is a Wild Mage, and is the antitheses of the Elemental Mages.

It turns out that the crystal is actually a dangerous and powerful magical artifact, one of the Prisms of Power - ancient artifacts made by a long dead race containing terrifying magic.

Once she is embroiled with Hunor and Jem, she embarks upon an epic adventure to find the Prisms. The Prisms are necessary to defeat the lord of the ghasts, the undead mages who are unequivocally evil.  No wishy-washy maybe-they-are evil here!!!  The Lord of the Ghasts is Evil. Emelia holds the key to their location but the Wild-magic comes at a dire cost...that of her mind.

Now in Darkness Rising Book 2 - Quest, Emelia, Hunor and Jem’s adventures continue. Wounded by a demon, Emelia is taken by her comrades, Jem and Hunor, into the dangerous Silver Mountains where they seek an old friend. A chance encounter propels them into a quest to find artifacts of awesome power.

Joining their quest is Lady Orla Farvous, a knight of the air, and member of the family which ‘owns’ Emelia. Her honor is put to the test as she finds herself fighting alongside people she despises. Also joining the group is Marthir, a druid and a thorn in Emelia’s side; Kervin (a tracker); and Mek-ik-ten, Jem’s mentor.

The Lord of the Ghasts, Vildor, has risen and lays a trap that may end their quest before it begins.  Emelia struggles to learn what she must and to do what she must, all the while fighting her personal demons.  In Thetoria, Aldred Enfarson, begins an investigation into a horrific murder. As he starts to unravel the events surrounding the appearance of a vampyr, he discovers a shocking truth which threatens all he holds dear.

Kitson has created a world that is fully fleshed in both its history and its social structure, and built a system of magic that is logical and is fully believable.  I love all the different races of sentient people; everything from lizardmen to mermen people this tale. The details are slipped into the story in such a way that you absorb them without realizing it.  Kitson's world is rich with the sounds and smells of another place and time; and I become fully immersed in the lives of Emelia, Hunor and Jem when I read his work.

I am positively over the moon knowing book three will soon be released, because I REALLY love this series.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Storm in Tormay, by Christopher Bunn


A Storm in Tormay is a compilation of a three-book series. The first section, The Hawk and His Boy by indie author Christopher Bunn is book one of The Tormay Series, all three of which are comprised in this book. The tale opens with an orphan boy, Jute, undertaking a ‘chimney’ job for his cruel master, The Juggler. He climbs the wall, using his skills to quiet the wards on the wall. He is worried, because the Knife of the Thieves Guild has insisted he do this job, and only a fool would refuse The Knife anything. Jute wonders why The Knife needs a child for this job, since children were not real thieves, only cut-purses and pickpockets.

He senses the object he seeks in the dark house somehow ‘knows’ him, a thing that intrigues him as he has no idea of his real name or where he really belongs; only that he is an orphan and bound to The Juggler, an unsavory, greedy abusive thief. The box calls to him so clearly he hears it as if someone had spoken his name. The box was the length of his forearm, made of black oak and fastened with a catch and hinges of silver.  A carving of a lifelike hawk, his head staring right at Jute, with the moon and sun rising behind it completed the box.   Despite having been threatened with death if he did so, Jute opens the box. What he finds is an old knife, which seems to be nothing special. He accidentally cuts himself, and sucks the blood away as it wells from his finger. When he closes the box, the carving is no longer lifelike, nothing but a crude carving at best.

Terrified at what he has done, he flees the room. After giving the box to The Knife, the assassin pushes Jute over the edge of the chimney, a failed effort to kill him. Injured, he wakes up with the owners of the house trying to decide what punishments to inflict on his pain-wracked body.

Ronan of Aum, called ‘The Knife’. He holds no malice toward the boy, indeed he feels a bit sorry for him, but he has a job to do. He just wants to earn enough money to escape the city of Hearne and the Thieves Guild.

The Duke of Mizra has asked for the hand of a young noblewoman who is so much more than an ordinary woman, Levoreth.  Besides her obvious secret, she has a mysterious talent for melding her mind with the horses, causing her stablemen to consider her with awe.

Fen, a girl who ‘knows things’ has narrowing escaped the slaughter of her entire family by a creature of evil, becoming horribly injured in the process.  She is rescued by traders, passing through her family’s land.

Nio, the dark wizard who owns the box, pries the information of who had arranged for the theft out of Jute, and then gives him to his horrible creature to kill, but The Voice in Jute’s head helps save his life. Using magic he doesn’t really understand, but believes he does, Nio has created a creature of magic, called a wihitt, which something between a Golem and a demon. He created it from Darkness and the Four Elements to be his servant, and fed it with his own blood. He used it to get information on The Juggler and Ronan, The Knife. The wihitt frightens him somewhat, and he plans to unmake it.

Nio is one of four scholars who seek knowledge of the Gerecednes, a lost book written by a people known to have great knowledge and power over the elements.  One of the other scholars, Severan, knows Nio is up to no good and that he wants Jute. Severan finds Jute and takes him to the ruins of the university to hide him from all who now seek him and want him dead.

The threads of these characters are woven together to form a tapestry which is compelling and absorbing. This is a deep tale, and is frequently heart-rending.  Bunn’s narrative is reminiscent of Tad Williams’s style, making this series an immersive experience to read.  I highly recommend buying the compilation at the outset, because once you have begun reading this series, you won’t be able to stop.
Christopher Bunn can be found blogging on his website, Scribbles and Tunes for the Modern Human.  I must say, I spent a whole morning reading and enjoying his commentary on life and the world in general.

His books are available either through his website or at and also Barnes & Noble; and at many other fine bookstores.