3 The Chronicles of Amber

The Chronicles of Amber

The Chronicles of Amber is group of novels that comprise a fantasy series written by Roger Zelazny. The main series consists of two story arcs, each five novels in length. Additionally, there are a number of Amber short stories and other works.

The Amber stories take place in two, true worlds: Amber, and the Courts of Chaos. Other worlds, including our Earth, are but "shadows" of the tension between the two true worlds. The Courts of Chaos is situated in Shadow at the very edge of Chaos itself. Royals of Amber who have negotiated the Pattern, can travel freely through the shadows. By shifting between shadows, one can appear to alter reality by choosing which elements of which shadows to keep, and which to move between.


The Chronicles

The first ten novels were written by Zelazny and released individually. They have also been released in a single volume called The Great Book of Amber. The first five novels were also released in a two volume set called The Chronicles of Amber Volume One which contained the first two novels and The Chronicles of Amber Volume Two which contained novels three though five. Nine Princes in Amber first appeared as an excerpt in Kallikanzaros #1, June 1967 and as a second excerpt in Kallikanzaros #3, December 1967. Sign of the Unicorn, The Hand of Oberon, and The Courts of Chaos first appeared as abridged, serialized versions in Galaxy Science Fiction. The other Amber novels (The Guns of Avalon, and the five Merlin novels) were not serialized or excerpted.

The Corwin Cycle

The first five novels are narrated by Corwin and describe Corwin's adventures and life as he remeets his family after an absence of centuries. The novels are a collection under the title The Chronicles of Amber.

Nine Princes in Amber (1970)

Corwin wakes up from a coma in a hospital in New York with amnesia. He soon discovers that he's part of a superhuman royal family that can wander among infinite parallel worlds (called "shadows"), and who rule over the one true world, Amber. He meets members of this newly-rediscovered family, and then later is shown and walks the Pattern, a labyrinth inscribed in the dungeons of Castle Amber which gives the multiverse its order. Walking the Pattern of Rebma (a city in Amber that mirrors the true city of Amber, down to the smallest detail, including the pattern) restores Corwin's memory and his abilities to travel through shadow. He attempts to conquer Amber, which is currently ruled by his elder brother Eric, who took power after the disappearance of their father, Oberon. Corwin fails to seize power and is blinded and imprisoned. Thanks to the regenerative powers of his family, his eyes regrow and he regains his vision. Dworkin Barimen, the mad sorcerer who created the Pattern enters Corwin's prison through the walls of Corwin's prison cell, and eventually draws on the wall the door through which Corwin escapes.

The Guns of Avalon (1972)

Corwin has escaped the dungeons of Amber, where he was imprisoned by his hated brother Eric, who had seized the throne of Amber. All of Corwin's siblings believe that guns cannot function in Amber, as gunpowder is inert there. But Corwin has secret knowledge: in the shadow world of Avalon, where he once ruled, there exists a jeweler's rouge that will function in Amber as gunpowder should. Corwin plans to raise a legion of shadow soldiers, and arm them with automatic rifles from the shadow world Earth. While gathering these forces Corwin discovers a more sinister problem growing among the shadows. He meets Dara, a woman claiming to be his great-grandniece, and later discovers a threat to Amber; a black road which runs across universes from the Courts of Chaos to Amber. With his newly-trained army, Corwin marches on Castle Amber only to find it already under siege. Eric is mortally wounded and passes the Jewel of Judgment to Corwin, making Corwin Regent. The immediate danger passes, but Dara threatens greater peril after walking the pattern and revealing herself to be a creature of the Courts of Chaos, intent on destroying both Amber and the Shadows.

Sign of the Unicorn (1975)

Eric is dead, and Corwin now rules Amber as Regent. But someone has murdered their brother Caine and framed Corwin. This leads to questions about other missing members of the royal family. Random (another brother) tells of his attempts to rescue Brand (also a brother), and Corwin decides to find out what happened to the latter. After many intrafamily exchanges, Brand is rescued but is stabbed by one of the family in the attempt. In the midst of the ensuing intrigue an assassination attempt is made on Corwin and he finds himself incapacitated on Earth. Before returning to Amber he hides the Jewel of Judgment on Earth. After Brand recovers, he tells Corwin of several incidents leading up to his capture. Corwin travels to Tir-na Nóg'th, the mysterious, moonlit Amber-in-the-sky where he hopes to gain insight into the situation, and upon his return finds himself at the Primal Pattern rather than Amber.

The Hand of Oberon (1976)

Corwin finds the Primal Pattern damaged, with a dark stain obscuring parts of it. On further investigation it is found that the blood of one of the members of his family has created the stain. Corwin descends back to the dungeons and meets with Dworkin who explains how the pattern might be repaired. After being chased from the pattern, Corwin eventually discovers that Brand is responsible for the damage and that he now has the Jewel of Judgment. Corwin must now prevent Brand from attuning himself to the jewel or Brand's plot to destroy the pattern will succeed. Corwin and his family band together to prevent this, eventually recover the jewel, and discover that their father Oberon, the true King of Amber, still lives.

Roger Zelazny makes a brief cameo appearance in the book as a guard in a dungeon, smoking a pipe and working on a novel which may or may not be The Chronicles of Amber itself.

The Courts of Chaos (1978)

Oberon, having resumed the throne, organizes an assault on the Courts of Chaos. Oberon plans to repair the Primal Pattern at the cost of his life, and offers the throne to Corwin with Dara as his Queen. Corwin refuses and is tasked to bring the Jewel of Judgment across the shadows to the battle that will ensue after the pattern is redrawn. He sets off along the black road and is soon pursued by Brand and a great storm. Through the storm and across the multiverse he comes to doubt his father's success. As he approaches the Courts of Chaos he is assailed by fantastic beings who try to dissuade him, and he finally decides that his father must have failed. Corwin then creates a new pattern and uses it to get to the Courts. In a final confrontation with Brand, the Jewel of Judgment is stolen and lost. It is recovered by a unicorn who bestows it on Random, who is then accepted as the new King. The Trumps and multiverse are restored and Corwin begins to relate the first Five novels to his son Merlin.

The Merlin Cycle

The next five novels focus on Merlin, Corwin's son. These stories are held by some fans to be less of a fantasy classic than the first five due to the difference in writing style, direction and setting. One criticism is on how the new series has revolved around the dealing with and acquisition of ever more powerful artifacts and entities, in a kind of technological/magical arms race. [1]

Whereas Corwin of the first series was a product of the late 60s & 70s and was more of a cross between a hardboiled detective in the vein of Raymond Chandler and a Highlander-like immortal with centuries of experience fighting his way through the stories, Merlin (a product of the late 80s & early 90s when computers had become commonplace) is a youthful hacker / magic user finding himself in increasingly complex situations in the vein of modern hacker protagonists. The series is a coming of age for Merlin with his heritage as a Prince of Chaos and Amber.

Trumps of Doom (1985)

Merlin has been studying computer science on Earth while constructing a secret project called Ghostwheel, a sentient computer based on the Trumps that Merlin hopes will be able to locate Corwin, who vanished after visiting the Courts of Chaos in the previous novel. Merlin discovers the body of his ex-girlfriend Julia, apparently killed by beasts from another shadow, and subsequently finds himself in sorcerous combat with a lady named Jasra, who has a poisonous sting in her bite. More unnerving is that his best friend Luke apparently knows about both Ghostwheel and Merlin's connection to Amber. He eventually returns to Amber, which is in mourning: the news has just come that Caine has been murdered, and Bleys injured, by a mystery assassin with a rifle - an assassin who demonstrates (with a thrown bomb at Caine's funeral, which misses any other family members) that he has access to something with explosive properties in Amber. After the funeral, King Random orders Merlin to shut down Ghostwheel, but the artifact shows it is capable of self-defense, even against its creator, who is saved by the unexpected appearance of Luke - who thus proves, with the ability to traverse Shadow, that he too is no ordinary human. He soon finds that Luke is in fact Rinaldo, son of Brand of Amber, and has been responsible for yearly attempts on his life, on the anniversary of when Luke found out about Brand's death. Luke imprisons Merlin in a cave of blue crystal which negates his magic abilities and from which he cannot escape. The Trumps of Doom won the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 1985.[2]

Blood of Amber (1986)

Merlin escapes from the blue crystal cave, meets and confronts Jasra, nearly taking her prisoner, but is forced to retreat when she calls in reinforcements using the Trumps. Further mystery ensues back on Earth when several people who apparently knew a lot more about Merlin than they should, turn out to have no memory of previous meetings. Merlin traces his way back to his first confrontation with Jasra, where he finds himself at a magical fort, the Keep of the Four Worlds, a nexus of magical energies which has recently fallen under the control of a mysterious blue-masked sorcerer calling himself "Mask", who seems to have a vendetta against Merlin. However, the Keep is also currently under siege by Dalt the Mercenary, a known enemy of Amber and friend of Luke/Rinaldo. A meeting with a deserter reveals that Jasra (the previous owner of the Keep - now presumably deposed) is Luke/Rinaldo's mother. Merlin returns to Amber, ventures out into Amber City, escapes an assassination attempt, and is saved by Caine's mistress, Vinta Bayle - who, also, appears to know more than she ought about him. Merlin then finds himself having to rescue Luke from Dalt, the two having apparently come to blows. Luke reveals that Jasra has indeed lost power and is now a prisoner - and has the cheek to ask for Merlin's help. "Vinta" reveals that she is not what she seems, but is a being that has apparently appeared to Merlin in "possession" of several different bodies. Luke ends up in the crystal cave himself - and Merlin, after yet another uncanny encounter with a shape-shifting werewolf (which escapes, minus an ear and with severe burns) and that appears to be backed by Mask. Merlin decides to gain leverage over Luke by "rescuing" Jasra without Luke's help, and then taking Jasra as a prisoner in Amber. He confronts Mask, escapes with the now-petrified Jasra, and returns to Amber, where an unusual Trump summoning imprisons him in the Mad Hatter's tea party from Wonderland.

Blood of Amber was nominated for the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 1987.[3]

Sign of Chaos (1987)

Merlin realises that Wonderland, where he and Luke are trapped, is an LSD-induced hallucination made real by Luke's powers over shadow. (It is Luke who has dropped the acid - he, too, having been taken prisoner in an independent attempt to rescue Jasra, and having apparently been given it as an experiment.) He is ambushed by a creature from Chaos, a Fire Angel, but defeats it with the help of a Jabberwock and a vorpal sword. He leaves Luke to sober up and seeks his stepbrother Mandor, who thinks that their half-brother Jurt may be at least one of the assassins trying to kill Merlin - right now, most likely, for headship of the House of Sawall once its current lord dies, since Mandor (the eldest son) has stepped aside, leaving that office to be disputed between Merlin and Jurt (who was indeed the werewolf from earlier.) They meet up with Fiona and discover that the Logrus is making an attempt to damage Corwin's Pattern: but Merlin refuses to help Mandor and Fiona learn more, and returns to Amber, only to be embroiled in diplomatic controversy: in order to avoid Luke's possible accession to the throne of the Shadow kingdom Kashfa, Random is playing politics to put his own candidate on the throne, and the neighbouring kingdom of Begma objects to that particular candidate's territorial ambitions. The Begman duke's elder daughter Coral, and Luke's old friend Dalt the Mercenary, are both revealed to be bastard Amberites, sired by Oberon out of wedlock: Coral walks the Pattern and disappears completely, apparently held prisoner by it. Dalt challenges Amber with an armed force, demanding Luke be surrendered to him as prisoner, but Luke has sworn off his vendetta and is under Queen Vialle's protection. Negotiations result in an arranged fistfight between Dalt and Luke, which Dalt wins and captures Luke. Coral's younger sister Nayda is revealed to be possessed by the mysterious body-possessing "t'yiga" demon which had previously been Vinta Bayle (and, for a short while, several other people on Earth, in "Trumps of Doom"): but since the real Nayda actually died of a long-standing heart condition just as the t'yiga possessed her (possession is normally harmless), it is now trapped in her form permanently. Merlin calls in Mandor to imprison the t'yiga, which turns out (a) to have been sent with orders to act as a bodyguard to Merlin, by an unknown sponsor, and (b) reveals that Jurt is in league with Mask, and is trying to gain power from the Keep of the Four Worlds in the same way that Brand did, and become a Living Trump. Merlin and Mandor free Jasra, since Jasra is Mask's enemy, and together they wrest the Keep of the Four Worlds from Jurt and Mask. Mask is wounded by Merlin, but then it is revealed that "he" is in fact Merlin's ex-girlfriend Julia, whom he had thought dead. Sign of Chaos was nominated for the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 1988.[4]

Knight of Shadows (1989)

Jasra is left in charge of the Keep of the Four Worlds, where she had ruled before - as Julia's teacher, before Julia decided to outwit her and take over. She turns out to be exactly the right person to leave in charge there, as she does not wish for the power of the Fount of the Four Worlds herself, but is quite happy to prevent others using it, since gaining its power destroyed the last of Brand's humanity, and she appears to have genuinely loved him, and lost him to his power-lust. Merlin tries to use Trump magic to locate Coral - with the help of Mandor, Jasra and even his own creation Ghostwheel, with whom he is back on good terms - but is ambushed by various ghostly constructs of people that have walked the Pattern and Logrus, and even by Corwin's most recent Pattern-ghost (from his own Pattern, not the pattern of Amber), and finds himself drawn into a struggle between the Logrus, the fundamental power of chaos, and the Pattern, the fundamental power of order. It is revealed that the Pattern, and its chaotic counterpart the Logrus, are sentient, and wish Merlin to choose a side to tip the balance of the multiverse towards one or the other - with other Pattern- and Logrus-ghosts also taking part in the "trial" to influence him one way or the other. He attempts to refuse the "test" but is confronted by the Powers That Be themselves, the Unicorn of Order and Serpent of Chaos. They try to make him choose between them using ghosts of family members who have traversed their two paths. He attempts to walk the route of neutrality to avoid choosing sides, but ends up being tricked into taking sides twice - firstly by having a Chaos dagger planted on him as he sleeps before attempting to take the middle path in a three-way choice between the extremes of Order and Chaos (this is rather appropriate: he would rather aid neither side, but his chosen method is usually the magic of Chaos), and secondly he is coerced into aiding the Pattern to strengthen its position in Shadows, while rescuing Coral from her imprisonment. During the trial he somehow obtains possession of the Jewel of Judgement: the attempt to return it to Castle Amber provokes a confrontation between the Pattern and Logrus themselves, causing a mighty explosion in which Mandor suffers a broken arm and Coral loses an eye. The ty'iga demon in Nayda's body escapes and tries to return the Jewel to the Logrus, but is captured by Ghostwheel - which, after removing both Nayda and the Jewel, passes its own synthetic "consciousness" through the Jewel, thus traversing the Pattern. Coral's damaged eye is operated on by Dworkin, who replaces it with the Jewel of Judgement. Merlin investigates Brand's old quarters, and finds his old sword Werewindle, and a mysterious and powerful "spikard" ring, which he keeps. Random sends him to the kingdom of Kashfa as the Amberite representative at a coronation... that of none other than Luke, who is crowned as "King Rinaldo I", having overthrown Random's candidate Duke Arkans, in a largely bloodless coup. Since he has a fairly legitimate claim on the throne himself, is on better terms with his neighbours (Begma, who objected to Duke Arkans), and has given up his vendetta on Amber, Random is letting things stand. Further complications ensue when it turns out that Coral - now Merlin's lover - is actually Luke's long-forgotten wife following a diplomatic arranged marriage in childhood (although Luke seems willing enough to have it annulled in the future). Merlin goes to present Luke with Werewindle as a memento of his father, but they are ambushed by Jurt (again). Jurt is defeated but steals Werewindle as he flees.

Prince of Chaos (1991)

Merlin returns to his birthplace in the Courts of Chaos in order to solve the existential riddle in which he is involved - to find that he is suddenly a lot closer to the throne of Chaos itself than he thought, King Swayvill having finally died of a long-standing illness (aggravated, it is said, by the death curse of Eric of Amber), and many other candidates having either been assassinated or dropped out, which pushes his own house of Sawall unexpectedly to the forefront. Of course, besides there being two other candidates from rival houses, this pushes Jurt very close to the succession too. In a conversation with his mother Dara - mistress of Corwin once, and a descendant of Benedict, also from the royal house of Chaos - he finds that she was the one who sent the t'yiga demon which is now Coral's sister Nayda (and appears to be developing something of an affection for Luke.) Merlin realizes he is but a pawn in the hands of the powerful and cynical superpowers that rule the universe, that neither the Pattern nor the Logrus (or their manifestations as Unicorn and Serpent) care much about their "minions", and that someone or something wants him to rule Chaos - and that others will try to manipulate him when he is. Merlin - and a Pattern-ghost of Luke - are both adopted by Corwin's Pattern (which has previously rejected Fiona), at the instance of a patternghost of Corwin himself, as it appears that his own Pattern is also sentient and resisting incursions from both the Logrus and Amber's Pattern - and taking a hand in the conflict between the two. It becomes apparent that the real Corwin is held prisoner by Dara herself - ironically, in a chapel devoted to Corwin (chapels devoted to Amberites having apparently become a popular cult in Chaos after the Patternfall War: Jurt worshipped Brand, House Hendrake idolised Benedict, and Mandor's patron was Fiona.) Jurt, frightened by the power politics, declares truce on Merlin, and calls off his own vendetta - suggesting that Dara and Mandor intend, themselves, to manipulate Merlin when becomes King, after first putting him on the throne. The assassination of the two remaining candidates throws things into confusion: Coral is kidnapped by agents of Chaos (who want her because the Jewel of Judgement is her eye), and pursued by Merlin and Jurt, who call on the assistance of Luke, Dalt and Nayda: they find themselves having to fight agents of the Pattern as well as the Logrus to rescue her, and finally confront the Pattern itself and threaten to damage it by spilling their Amberite blood on it, if it does not back off from their conflict (the four others are sent safely away while Luke remains: contact is lost just after he says "Shit, I spilled it!") Merlin rescues his father, Corwin, and hides him in Jurt's quarters, and also discovers that the Spikard Ring he found in Brand's quarters was a trap, meant to bring him under Mandor and Dara's influence - except the plan was anticipated by Bleys (who was thought to be in hiding, recovering from his injury four books ago), who replaced it with another identical spikard which Dara and Mandor did not control (previously held by an estranged Amberite, a son of Oberon called Delwin). In the Courts of Chaos, Merlin uses Ghostwheel (which has by now traversed the Logrus as well as the Pattern), his own Spikard, and all his magical powers in the final fight for survival: finally declaring - and forcing Dara and Mandor to accept - that although he did not want to rule, if forced to do so, it will not be as anyone's puppet. Thus both the Pattern and Logrus are forestalled for a time, in their attempts to escalate their conflict: while Corwin begins the journey back to Amber, Merlin - who wants peace with Amber - returns to Chaos to await his coronation.

Short stories

For the limited 1985 edition of Trumps of Doom, Zelazny wrote a prologue which details Merlin's passage through the Logrus.

After completing the Merlin Cycle, Zelazny wrote six Amber short stories, in which he began to tease the threads of the story into a new configuration. The author died shortly after completing the sixth short story of this small series, and before the first story (co-written with Ed Greenwood) had been completed. Five of the six short stories were collected in Manna from Heaven (2003), along with the Trumps of Doom prologue and 16 non-Amber stories. The unfinished tale "A Secret of Amber" was published in 2005 in Amberzine #12-15. Although several orders for these stories have been proposed by fans, according to Zelazny himself (commentary quoted in the biography "...And Call Me Roger": The Literary Life of Roger Zelazny, Part 6[5] and in the "A Word from Zelazny" sections that accompany these stories[6]), the correct order of the stories is this (i.e., the order in which they were written):

  • "A Secret of Amber" (co-written in alternating sections with author Ed Greenwood, published in Amberzine #12-15, March 2005)
  • "The Salesman's Tale" (Amberzine #6, by Phage Press, February 1994 and Ten Tales, edited by John Dunning, 1994)
  • "Blue Horse, Dancing Mountains" (Wheel of Fortune, edited by Roger Zelazny, 1995)
  • "The Shroudling and the Guisel" (Realms of Fantasy, October, 1994)
  • "Coming to a Cord" (Pirate Writings, Number 7, 1995)
  • "Hall of Mirrors" (Castle Fantastic, edited by John DeChancie and Martin Greenberg, March 1996)

"A Secret of Amber" was written in stages beginning prior to any of the other Amber short stories, but was left incomplete at Zelazny's death. It features an interaction between Fiona and Corwin. The latter five stories tell a linked tale from several viewpoints. Zelazny planned to write more and to eventually publish a collection of Amber short stories.[5]

The Dawn of Amber

The Dawn of Amber series by John Gregory Betancourt started to be published in 2002. Betancourt's series tells the story of Corwin's father Oberon. It is set several centuries before Nine Princes in Amber and includes, thus far:

  • The Dawn of Amber (2002)
  • Chaos and Amber (2003)
  • To Rule in Amber (2004)
  • Shadows of Amber (2005)
  • Sword of Chaos (Dawn of Amber) (series canceled)

These novels were authorized by the Zelazny estate; however, that decision has been criticized by several acquaintances of Mr. Zelazny, including the writers George R. R. Martin, Walter Jon Williams and Neil Gaiman. These critics assert that Roger Zelazny was quite averse to the idea of a "shared" Amber setting, and that he had explicitly stated, in no uncertain terms, that he did not want any other writers writing about Amber.[7][8] Gaiman wrote:

Well, I remember Roger talking to me and Steve Brust. We'd just suggested that if he did an anthology of other-people-write-Amber-stories that we'd be up for it (understatement) and he puffed on his pipe, and said -- extremely firmly -- that he didn't want anyone else to write Amber stories but him.

I don't believe he ever changed his mind on that. (When Roger knew he was dying, though, he did nothing to rewrite his will, which means that his literary executor is a family member from whom he was somewhat estranged -- not someone who would have kept Roger's wishes paramount. Which is a pity.)

Would I love to write an Amber story? God, yes. Would Steve Brust? Absolutely. Will we? Nope because Roger told us he explicitly didn't want it to happen.

On the other hand, Zelazny had authorized other Amber books written by other authors such as The Black Road War and Seven No-Trump gamebooks penned by Neil Randall (co-author of The Visual Guide to Castle Amber with Zelazny) and The Complete Amber Sourcebook by Theodore Krulik. He also granted Amberzine the special privilege to publish stories directly inspired from Amber RPG sessions.

The Dawn of Amber series did not pick up where the Merlin series left off. That the series focuses on Oberon has disappointed many Amber fans who, after reading the Merlin series and the other Amber short stories, realized that Zelazny almost certainly was planning another series to wrap up the story that was left hanging. Zelazny had written the Amber short stories to tie up some loose ends and at the same time opened doors to new characters, concepts and stories for the Amber universe.

In addition, the series seems to contradict some ideas in Amber or rules stated in the original ten books. Betancourt talked about some of these concerns in an interview,[9] stating that some of them won't prove valid at end of his series.

Due to Byron Preiss' death, iBooks filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and the series was canceled.[10] The future of the series is uncertain but iBooks has shown renewed interest in the series since being purchased by John T Colby in 2006.[11][12]

Some fans have had a rather negative response to Betancourt's writing style and lack of characterization, and consider his work to be more of fan fiction, but Betancourt states that one of his primary motivations for writing the new books was to keep Roger Zelazny's books and stories alive and in print and to prevent them from fading into obscurity, much like how other authors have extended the stories and ongoing popularity of Robert E. Howard's Conan, Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes series.

Other works

There are two guides to Amber:

  • Roger Zelazny's Visual Guide to Castle Amber by Roger Zelazny and Neil Randall (1988)
  • The Complete Amber Sourcebook by Theodore Krulik (1996)

There are two books similar in concept to the Choose Your Own Adventure series by Neil Randall:

  • Seven No-Trump (1988) 'A Crossroads Adventure'
  • The Black Road War (1988) 'Combat Command'

There is also the Amber Diceless Roleplaying Game by Erick Wujcik:

  • Amber Diceless Role-playing (1991)
  • Shadow Knight (1995)

AmberMUSH is the most notable example of a large number of hobbyist-run text-based online role-playing games based on Amber (and often Amber Diceless Roleplaying as well).

There are two three-part comic adaptations of Nine Princes in Amber and The Guns of Avalon, respectively, by Terry Bisson (1996).

Sunset Productions did audio versions of Roger reading the novels (except where noted) and produced them with sound effects. Sunset was bought out by Americana Publishing in 2002.[13]

  1. Nine Princes in Amber (abridged February 1992, unabridged April 1998)
  2. The Guns of Avalon (abridged February 1992, unabridged November 1998)
  3. Sign of the Unicorn (abridged September 1992, unabridged December 1998)
  4. The Hand of Oberon (abridged October 1992, unabridged 1999) (last portion of the unabridged version read by Bruce Watson)
  5. The Courts of Chaos (abridged only January 1993, unsure of unabridged date)
  6. Trumps of Doom (abridged April 1993, unsure of unabridged date)
  7. Blood of Amber (abridged July 1993, unsure of unabridged date)
  8. Sign of Chaos (abridged November 1994, unabridged 2002)
  9. Knight of Shadows (abridged only) (October 1996)
  10. Prince of Chaos (abridged only) (read by Bruce Watson) (December 1998)[14]

Additionally, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) have also created their own unabridged versions of The Chronicles of Amber. Though they are not read by Zelazny and do not contain special effects, they are the only source for unabridged readings of the later works.[15]

The Amber Multiverse

The series is based on the concept of parallel worlds, domination over them being fought between the kingdoms at the extreme ends of Shadow—Amber, the one true world of Order, and the Courts of Chaos. Amberites of royal blood—those descended from Oberon (and ultimately his parents: Dworkin, formerly of the Courts of Chaos, and the Unicorn of Order herself) —are able to "walk in Shadow", mentally willing changes to occur around them. These changes are, in effect, representative of the Shadow-walker passing through different realities. There are apparently infinite realities, and the characters in the novels are not sure if these different universes are created as one walks through Shadow, or if they already exist and a Shadow-walker is able to slip from one to another. In the Merlin cycle there are references to the Wheeler-Everret interpretation of quantum-mechanics and the Ghostwheel created by Merlin is said to "shuffle" through Shadows, suggesting that the multiverse exists independently, although this is never explicitly stated.

Within this multiverse, Zelazny deals with some interesting philosophical concepts about the nature of existence, compares and contrasts the ideas of Order and Chaos, and plays with the laws of physics—they can differ from Shadow to Shadow; for instance, gunpowder does not ignite in Amber, which is why the characters all carry swords. Other Shadows have green skies and blue suns, cities of glass and Kentucki Fried Lizzard Partes, and worlds out of our own fiction can come to life.

The Geography of Amber

The Castle, City and State of Amber sits atop Kolvir, a mountain which dominates the land and sea around it. Part of the landward side is a high cliff, thousands of feet high, which can be climbed using carved steps. These form a switchback path that is wide at the bottom, but narrows as it rises until there is room enough only for a single man to stand during the last few courses.

Below the cliff is the Vale of Garnath, through which forces of Chaos eventually come to threaten Amber. On the seaward side the land slopes more gently. The defense of Amber on this side is the job of the fleet of sailing ships, led by Caine or Gérard. The remaining approaches to the city pass through the Forest of Arden, patrolled by troops commanded by Julian.

Originally, with the exception of the Pattern and the Trumps, there was no way for the Amberites to exercise their abilities within Amber itself. Since Amber "casts Shadow but is not of it", walking in Shadow was not possible. It was necessary to journey far from Kolvir in order to walk in Shadow, traveling to other worlds. The usual route was by sea, or through the Forest of Arden. Similarly it was not possible to arrive in Amber by traveling in Shadow, which is why the sea patrols and Julian's force in Arden were effective. In Nine Princes in Amber Random and Corwin arrive in Arden by driving Flora's car through Shadow, but as soon as they do this they are discovered by Julian.

Later, when Oberon returned and it was revealed that Amber itself was a Shadow of the Primal Pattern, Corwin found he could enter Shadow much closer to Amber than he thought possible. He was unable, however, to emulate Oberon's ability to work Shadow on Kolvir itself.

Another effect of closeness to Amber is the failure of explosives. Explosives, and thus firearms, do not work in Amber, until Corwin discovers that Jeweler's Rouge from Avalon (a world Corwin frequented in his past and favored above all other shadows save Earth) meets the chemical requirements to combust in Amber. He uses this to arm his invading force in The Guns of Avalon.

Amber's Reflections

Amber has two reflections or counterparts. The city of Rebma (Amber spelled backwards) lies under the sea off the coast. Markers on the beach point the way to an underwater stairway which descends to the city. While on the stairway and in the city, it is possible to breathe despite being submerged. During their flight from Amber's troops, Random and Corwin have to fight on the stairway, killing some of their enemies by casting them beyond the rail, where they are crushed by the pressure of water. Reaching the line of Rebma's guards, they have to ask Moire, Rebma's Queen, for sanctuary. The people of Rebma are human in form but resentful of Amber, particularly when Amber's strife causes ripples of trouble in their own home. In times of peace Amberites may visit freely. It was during one such time that Random seduced Moire's daughter, causing her to commit suicide when he left. Rebma also contains a Pattern, a match to the one in Amber. It is this pattern that Corwin walks to regain his memory.

When the full moon shines, a mirage appears above Amber. This is the city of Tir-na Nog'th (cf. Tír na nÓg). The only inhabitants of this city are shadows and ghosts of people who once, might have, or never existed. When the ghost city appears, a stairway leads to it, starting with three stone steps on Kolvir. As long as the moon is not obscured, the stairway and the city are solid enough to stand on. Amberites visit the ghost city to explore their feelings and to seek insight and portents of the future. When doing so, they must stay in contact with another Amberite using a Trump, since the city may disappear without warning if a cloud passes across the moon. There is yet another Pattern in Tir-na Nog'th, but walking it is a matter of last resort, when access to all the other Patterns is denied. It is while visiting Tir-na Nog'th that Corwin fights the ghost of his brother Benedict, gaining possession of a magical artificial right arm which the real Benedict adopts, having lost his real arm in a fight. The magical arm is crucial in defeating their brother Brand when he attempts to use the Jewel of Judgment to remake the multiverse to his own specifications.

The cast of characters

Ultimately, Amber focuses on a dysfunctional family that is somehow at the center of a cosmic war between many powers. Nine princes and four princesses of Amber, including Prince Corwin as narrator of the first book series, try to deal with the disappearance of Oberon, their father, and an apparent need for succession of the throne. No-one trusts anyone, everyone appears to be ready to backstab anyone else (often literally), and everyone seems genuinely interested in only one thing: himself or herself.

In this respect, the Amber series could perhaps be best described as a philosophical, metaphysical, magical, mystical, fantasy soap opera. It has all those things, all wrapped around a cast of characters who are conniving, paranoid, dysfunctional, and often heartless.

All of the princes and princesses of Amber have super-human strength and regenerative capabilities. For example, Random and Corwin are able to pick up a car that had become stuck on a soft shoulder and place it back on the road, and Corwin is able to regenerate his eyes after they are burned out, although it takes him almost four years.

The Pattern and the Logrus

At the two poles of existence are the symbols of Order and Chaos—The Pattern and The Logrus, respectively. Each takes the form of a maze or labyrinth which, when negotiated, gives a person the ability to walk in shadow—across the different possible universes. Whereas the Pattern is a static, two-dimensional maze, The Logrus can be described as a shifting, three-dimensional obstacle course. The Pattern is located in caverns deep underneath the palace of Amber. The Pattern of Amber is the first shadow of the Primal Pattern, the original creation of Dworkin after he defected from the Courts of Chaos, and exists in its own shadow.

Nine other imperfect copies of the Pattern exist in shadows close to Amber, with the first three being the least dangerous to walk. Walking the shadow Patterns can give an individual some access to magical energies. Merlin repairs the imperfections in one shadow Pattern by walking it with the Jewel of Judgment. The repaired shadow pattern is then absorbed, increasing the strength of The Pattern relative to The Logrus.

A second complete Pattern also exists having been created by Corwin using the Jewel of Judgment in The Courts of Chaos. Corwin's Pattern exists separately from the original Pattern, although it is still attacked by The Logrus. Corwin's Pattern may have served as a gateway to an entirely separate multiverse, and it may have also been responsible for additional shadow storms which can raise havoc across the multiverse.

In the Merlin cycle, strife continues in Amber and the Courts of Chaos, driven by the fundamental battle between The Pattern and The Logrus themselves. Each of these fundamental entities is discovered to be sentient and battle across the multiverse using agents. The Pattern is able to create "Pattern Ghosts," duplicates of people who have walked the pattern, while The Logrus employs demons. When The Pattern and The Logrus came in direct conflict a massive explosion destroyed part of the palace in Amber.

The Trumps

Nearly all of Corwin's relatives carry a deck of Tarot cards, with a key alteration: each family member is on one of the Trumps. Each Trump, when concentrated upon by another family member, allows instant communication across the dimensions, and if both parties are willing, instant travel. Traveling in this way requires trust — placing oneself temporarily at the mercy of the non-traveling host. People watching someone leave via a Trump will notice them suddenly becoming two-dimensional, followed by a burst of color. It is also possible to contact a person via the Trumps and then hold them by an act of will and thereby prevent them from doing other things. Contact is broken by passing one's hand over the Trump. Contact is prevented if the person is drugged, deeply asleep, has some form of brain damage (such as Corwin's amnesia), unconscious or imprisoned in a fashion designed to prevent Trump use. Trump use is also impossible if the original Power (Logrus or Pattern) is disabled in the area. A synchronous attempt by several users strengthens the Trump contact.

Trumps can also be made for places, for example the Palace of Amber. In the second cycle Merlin discovers cards which he refers to as "Trumps of Doom". These transport the individual to locations of extreme danger. They are, therefore, traps for the unwary. The author of these trumps is Rinaldo, who learned the craft from his father Brand. As shown later, Trumps of Doom all lead to neighboring locations and serve Rinaldo as a quick escapeway to the blue stone cave, while hindering or disabling pursuit.

Trumps can be made by both Amberites and Chaosites. Those of double power (Dworkin, Dara and Merlin) can create Logrus and Pattern Trumps, although only Dworkin and Oberon knew this. The main sets of Trumps were created by Dworkin, but other individuals who have gained power by walking the Pattern or the Logrus, such as Merlin, Fiona and Brand were able to learn enough to be able to create new Trumps. While regular Trumps are in Tarot card form, they can also be drawn upon walls, doors and even living beings.


As inspirations for the Chronicles of Amber go, a compelling argument can be made for the 1946 novel The Dark World by Henry Kuttner (and most likely his wife, C. L. Moore, an unusually symbiotic collaborator). Zelazny himself is quoted as saying:

...the Kuttner story which most impressed me in those most impressionable days was his short novel The Dark World. I returned to it time and time, reading it over and over again, drawn by its colorful, semi-mythic characters and strong action. ...looking back, Kuttner and Moore—and, specifically, The Dark World—were doubtless a general influence on my development as a writer. As for their specific influences—particularly on my Amber series—I never thought about it until Jane Lindskold started digging around and began pointing things out to me.[16]

Reading the hard-to-find Kuttner (and Moore) novel, readers are bound to find similarities in theme and in specific instances: some character names are common to both works, and they share the fantasy literary device of moving a present day, realistic character from the familiar world into a fantastical, alternate reality world, exposing the character to this shift as the reader experiences it.[citation needed]

Zelazny openly admitted that the series was inspired by Philip José Farmer's World of Tiers series, specifically the concepts of an immensely powerful family in a deadly rivalry over the fate of multiple universes.[17]

Given Zelazny's academic interest in the Medieval European period, it is not a stretch to see a possible influence in Henry Adams' 1905 work Mont-Saint Michel and Chartres, wherein he discusses the building of Chartres Cathedral, and the tidal-islet of Mont St. Michel, on the Normandy coast of France. However, these possible influences are not supported by Zelazny's own commentary about the origins of the Pattern. He indicated that he loosely based the Pattern in part on the Tree of Life or Sephiroth of Kaballah, and preferred to allow the reader to imagine what the actual Pattern looked like.[17]

More generally, the series draws from many mythological sources as inspirations, especially Celtic (see Tír na nÓg), Norse mythology, and Arthurian legend. Zelazny cited Jessie L. Weston’s 1921 book From Ritual to Romance as a key influence: it examined the pagan and Christian roots of the legends of King Arthur, the Wasteland myths, and the Holy Grail. For example, the Celtic Wasteland myth ties the barrenness of a land to a curse that a hero must lift; Corwin's curse is in part responsible for the Black Road.[17]

Philosophical texts have influenced the series as well: many similarities exist between Amber and Plato's Republic (see the Allegory of the cave) and the classical problems of metaphysics, virtuality, solipsism, logic, possible worlds, probability, doubles and essences are also repeatedly reflected on.

Sometimes the references made by Zelazny could be considered foreshadowing, if one knows the reference. One such is the character Ganelon, whose name is taken from the Matter of France: specifically, it is the name of the man whose moniker is more often "Ganelon the Traitor". This suggests that the name is chosen because of Ganelon purposefully losing a battle to spite Corwin. In the Song of Roland, Ganelon is also the stepfather of the main hero, Roland;[citation needed] and on the last page of The Hand of Oberon, Zelazny's Ganelon is revealed as Oberon in disguise.

Allusions to Shakespeare

Throughout the Chronicles, Zelazny alludes extensively to plays by William Shakespeare. It is not stated in the series whether the characters (who are usually well-read) are merely paraphrasing the bard for their own amusement, or if Shakespeare himself was telling stories that are reflections of Amber's history and future. It is implied that both variants are true simultaneously. The allusions include:

  • Oberon, the King of Amber, is also the name of King of the Fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream, although Shakespeare did not invent the character.
  • The Forest of Arden is also the setting of Shakespeare's As You Like It.
  • There are greater thematic allusions in the Chronicles, mostly to Hamlet. Corwin describes himself at the beginning of The Courts of Chaos as the "mad prince" of Amber, drawing a parallel between himself and the mad prince of Denmark. In addition, Corwin is contacted by the "ghost" of Oberon several times (before realizing that Oberon still lives), an obvious parallel to the plot of Hamlet. When dining with Lorraine, Corwin even refers to the attempted Trump contact by Oberon as a message from his "father's ghost".
  • The rivalry between Corwin and Eric roughly parallels the Wars of the Roses, as portrayed in Shakespeare's "Wars of the Roses" cycle. Corwin's symbol, a silver rose, echoes the House of York's symbol, a white rose, and Eric's chosen color, red, echoes the House of Lancaster's symbol, a red rose.
  • "Ill-met by moonlight", Deirdre's response to her rescue in Nine Princes in Amber (chapter 4): "Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania", said by Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
  • "To sleep, perchance to dream... Yeah, there's a thing that rubs," Corwin muses in Nine Princes in Amber (chapter 6). "To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub", from the To be, or not to be soliloquy in Hamlet.
  • Very early in Nine Princes in Amber Corwin thinks to himself, "In the state of Denmark there was an odor of decay." A reference to "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark", a famous line from Hamlet.
  • When Corwin first meets Eric in Nine Princes in Amber, Eric complains "It's true, that uneasy-lies-the-head bit." "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" is the final line in a monologue spoken by Henry IV in Act III, Scene i, of Henry IV, part 2 wherein Henry is pondering how sleep comes to even the most humble peasant easier than it does to the great.
  • When he receives Eric's offer of peace in The Guns of Avalon, Corwin muses "...I believe you, never doubt it, for we are all of us honorable men" (chapter 8). In Marc Antony's funeral oration in Julius Caesar, he says, "For Brutus is an honourable man; So are they all; all honourable men."
  • "So Childe Random to the dark tower came," Random recounts in his story of how he tried to rescue Brand. At the end of Act IV of King Lear, Edgar, disguised as the Poor Tom, the crazy beggar, babbles "Child Rowland to the dark tower came", an allusion itself to the fairy tale of Childe Rowland.
  • Corwin, when describing the royal family to Ganelon in Sign of the Unicorn, says that Oberon had two other sons with Benedict's mother Cymnea, the first being Osric, who shares his name with a courtier in Hamlet.
  • "Good night, sweet Prince," Brand says to Benedict in The Hand of Oberon (chapter 13). These are the words that Horatio speaks at the death of Hamlet.
  • After watching his "dream" from Tir-na Nog'th play out in Amber in The Courts of Chaos (chapter 1), Corwin muses, "I looked back once to the empty place where my dream had come true. Such is the stuff." He alludes to Act IV, scene 1 of The Tempest, where, after causing spirits he has summoned to disappear, Prospero delivers the famous speech that includes the line "We are such stuff / As dreams are made on, and our little life / Is rounded by a sleep."


  1. ^ A Gadget Too Far by David Langford
  2. ^ "1985 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. http://www.worldswithoutend.com/books_year_index.asp?year=1985. Retrieved 2009-09-27. 
  3. ^ "1987 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. http://www.worldswithoutend.com/books_year_index.asp?year=1987. Retrieved 2009-09-27. 
  4. ^ "1988 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. http://www.worldswithoutend.com/books_year_index.asp?year=1988. Retrieved 2009-09-27. 
  5. ^ a b "...And Call Me Roger": The Literary Life of Roger Zelazny, Part 6, by Christopher S. Kovacs. In: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume 6: The Road to Amber, NESFA Press, 2009.
  6. ^ "A Word from Zelazny" (individual story commentary). In: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume 6: The Road to Amber, NESFA Press, 2009.
  7. ^ Neil Gaiman statement at zelazny.corrupt.net
  8. ^ http://groups.google.com/group/alt.books.roger-zelazny/msg/68702c375364bfe1?hl=en
  9. ^ Betancourt interview at sfsite.com
  10. ^ Betancourt posting
  11. ^ Betancourt followup
  12. ^ Publishers Weekly Article
  13. ^ Alberquerque Biz Journal
  14. ^ http://zelazny.corrupt.net/audio.html
  15. ^ http://www.loc.gov/cgi-bin/zgate.nls
  16. ^ issue #5 of Amberzine, Phage Press
  17. ^ a b c "...And Call Me Roger": The Literary Life of Roger Zelazny, Part 2, by Christopher S. Kovacs. In: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume 2: Power & Light, NESFA Press, 2009.

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