Princes of Amber
( no, I'm not obsessed by Emperors and Princes... )
( Fiona, CG colored by me from a Black & White sketch by Michael Kucharski
from the Amber RPG )
A Unicorn, a Snake, a handful of Trumps and Grayswandir traces the Pattern....
It may sound like a weird combination designed for artificial
success. Mix celtic mythology (unicorn, King Oberon, princes and
devils, submarine city...), the mystical appeal of trumps and
other figure cards, and a theory of parallel universes,
treated with an interesting point of view. Strangely enough,
with Roger Zelazny's talent, it works despite the traps of such
an explosive mix.
But many clues make him wonder if the truth is not more
complicated than a mere family business. Her sister calls him
Corwin while his hospital file says he's Carl Corey.
Actually, her own official name is not Flora but Evelyn Flamel.
Strange trumps, somehow cold at touch, feature portraits of
people looking familiar to him, though dressed in medieval style
- and he himself appears on a trump dressed in silver and
black. A man that he finds out being another half-brother,
Random, rushes into Flora's house to escape men-beasts - and
neither his arrival, nor his and Flora's hounds's devastating
reply to the attack surprise her.
It starts with two mysteries in one : first, in real life :
"Have I really bought a fantasy book or did they mistakenly
print a thriller under that cover?...". Second, in the book :
the hero has lost all his memories. He's in a private clinic
recovering from a car crash. It all seems very suspect to
him, especially the efforts to keep him unconscious and weak,
and he soon manages to escape the place.
Getting to the house of the woman who's had him placed in the
hospital, he fools her, pretending to know more than he does
(which is not difficult considering he barely remembers his own
name), until she tells him some about what happened. Flora
is his half-sister, and she payed doctors to keep him in that
hospital on behalf on another sibling of them, Eric.
Benedict (French cover by Olivier Ledroit)
The Pattern, picture by Florence Magnin, who illustrated the
French 1st edition of books and RPG.
Inciting his brother to "bring them back home",
Corwin is caught into a strange journey. The landscape around us
gradually changes according to Random's wishes, until they
Anything that may be conceived, and the rest as well, exists in
a Shadow, somewhere. Even physical and magical laws are not the same
from a Shadow to another. So that, for example, just as magic has few
effect on our Shadow Earth, powder doesn't explode in Amber
- you can't use guns over there. Well, except if... You'll find out.
Amber, THE City. The one, the only, which all
the other ones are only faded copies of, more or less distorted
reflections, Shadows. Shadows are how Amberites
call these realities born from the echo of Amber on the
tissue of the universe, like these small waves spreading in circles
around the stone fallen in the primal soup's sea.
Amber however has two "real" reflections in its own world that contain
other complete Patterns : Rebma, the city under sea, and Tir-na Nog'th,
the ghost city born in the sky from the full moon light.
Princes of Amber, sons and daughters of King Oberon and various
wives, have the ability to travel into Shadows. This is a legacy
of their blood, but they can only control it once they have
crossed the Pattern, a mystical drawing settled in the center of
Amber's Reality, source of its power and stability. Once crossed
- but only heirs to Dworkin, Oberon's father, are able to do it
-, the Pattern gives them other powers.
As if they'd really need it, anyway. Children of the
Pattern, protected by the Unicorn (hm, at least that's
what it looks like, until you scratch the surface...),
Princes of Amber are nearly immortal, stronger than the average
Amberite, themselves being mightier than common humans - the
same way that a reflection is never as bright or complete as the
real thing it's reflecting. Corwin himself has been wandering on
Shadow Earth for a couple of centuries, surviving plague and
For the time being, his life is threatened more than ever.
Oberon, King of Amber, has vanished. Nobody knows why,
where he is, if he's still alive. But the throne cannot remain empty.
Corwin lays claims to the crown. And Eric, his brother, that
has declared himself to succeed his father until he comes back -
if he ever does -, doesn't want to see Corwin back in the game
of politic schemes. He's got way enough troubles with a dark and
unknown threat over Amber, and over the Pattern itself...
But I've said too much already. This saga's strong point is to
bring us from one surprise to another, within a universe getting
deeper at each page, full of characters who, for once, are all
more clever and manipulative than the one you've just met. A
welcome change from the usual blank heroes filling the pages of
other heroic-fantasy stories. Here each page brings a twist of
the truth as you knew it from the pages before, but everything
fits in the plot (and that also is a big change...).
The five first books, Corwin's Cycle, form a complete
story, known as "the Throne War".
The following five, Merlin's Cycle, are another one, told by
Corwin's son. Even though he's a grown-up, Merlin is a bit less
cynical, deceptive and paranoid than his father. Which allows
Zelazny to give a more naive (as far as an Amberite can be) tone
to the narration - or to make it easier for him to write, since
it's a lot more challenging to put a really clever character
It's difficult to believe that an experimented
manipulator like Corwin could be fooled like a beginner by the
sorcerer next door, so to speak, while Merlin makes a better
prey. It also offers us a best view of the opposite "side" of Amber,
the Chaos Courts.
Merlin (French cover by Olivier Ledroit
Note on the illustrations : two of them were not at all designed for Amber, but I thought they fitted well :
French cover by Florence Magnin
The only reproach that comes to my mind about Amber's Saga is
that Zelazny had planned a third cycle of five books, where he
would develop some aspects thus (??) left mysterious in the second
one. But he died soon after achieving Merlin's cycle, letting us
wondering what could have been the future of the GhostWheel
and other promising characters like Mandor (yeah,
definitely, he appeals to women), Frakir, and I'll never
know where does Grayswandir comes from and boohoo... Some people
really don't know when it's time to leave... *pout*
- Tir-na Nog'th : taken from originally a cover art by Sami Ben Mehidi for Gene Wolfe's "The Shadow of the Torturer"
- the Unicorn : by Jeff Easley, from Art of DragonLance (I'll get back to this in the future).
Some links about Amber
Links checked / revised in December 2002
You can also check Amber's webring : The Golden Circle
- The Unicorn's Grove - 'aaarg' was my comment when I found it. Beautyfully done, rich content, and obviously by a gifted webmaster who's also an artist (that's rare enough to be said)
- Zelazny and Amber - mostly bibliographic site
- Amber : The Eternal City - a bit confusing to browse through, but worth it
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