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 Gérard, 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'.

1 comment:

stephen swartz said...

The major influence on my writing career--even though I did not delve so much into fantasy. Still, Roger is top god in my writers pantheon! Thanks for the reminiscence.