There is only one true world, Amber, and it casts an infinite number of worlds called the Shadows. Only the ones who traversed the Pattern, the symbol of Order, can bend the fabric of those realities, and travel among them. They are called the Shadow Walkers, and they are the princes of Amber.
In the beginning there was only Chaos, and from it’s courts, came Dworkin. He fled his life in the Courts of Chaos, and at the other end of reality, he created the Pattern, the symbol of Order.
Millennia later, king Oberon goes missing, and his children begin a centuries long war on rights of succession. One of them, Corwin, awakens from a coma with severe amnesia. By tricking everyone, he eventualy starts to remember his past, and sets on a journey to reclaim his throne, and find out the reason behind the black road that spews demons that seems to come from the direction of Chaos. That is the basis of the Corwin Cycle, the first five books in the series.
The second cycle, Merlin Cycle, is based on Merlin, Corwins son, and happens couple of years later.
Merlin, prince of both Amber and Chaos, leads a seemingly normal life away from political strifes of his families, as a computer science graduate in a Shadow that is our world Earth. Life is good. Except for the past 10 years, someone wants him dead. And that certain someone is trying to kill him on the exact same date for the past 10 years. After finding the corpse of his ex girlfriend Julia, he sets on a journey across Shadows to find out who is trying to kill him, and just why he can’t escape family politics any more.
With the book being divided into two cycles, 5 books per cycle, they are being told in the perspective of their main protagonist. Corwin(main protagonist of the first cycle) shaped in the classic 70’s fantasy style, is a warrior type, using his honour, sword, instinct and the right of succession as his motives to regain the throne that is rightfully his, and at the same time, to act as a protector of Amber.
His son Merlin(main protagonist of the second cycle) is a bit different from his father. He is more of an late 80’s type. A computer scientist/hacker, he uses intelligence and logic over force. And unlike his father, he is a magician and dislikes swords.
There are many things that kept my nose buried in the book. Roger Zelazny always knew how to make a great story that is at the same time deep and philosophical, and at the same time humorous and abstract. His characters, whether they were demons, kings or something else, they always shared the traits that made them human(Demons are also human – Zelazny speciality), and therefore, they made human mistakes. The abstract parts were fun as well. For instance Merlin throwing riddles against the Sphinx, or Random playing drums in Amber together with his son who played saxophone, who looked like a cyberpunk due to living in a cyberpunk Shadow, or Benedict replaying the same war scenario recruiting soldiers from countless realities and waging the same war in different Shadows so he can become the perfect tactician. There are many moments like this.
There are also the Trumps. Tarot cards which enabled the princes to communicate whit each other.
But the thing that fascinated me the most was the Shadow Walking which enabled the princes to walk through realities. They bend the reality to start looking like the Shadow where they want to be.
The concept is to start walking and relax. First you see the world as it looks like now, and the world as you want/need it to be.
Then you start adding and subtracting. The leaves are long and green. Let’s shorten them a bit. Now let’s give them a bit lighter touch of blue. Let’s make the birds a bit more colorful. The animals. Let’s give them a longer fur, and maybe make them a bit bigger. Their eyes are green now. The road is winding. I could straighten it a bit and put concrete instead of gravel. The gravity should be a bit lighter. The air is chilly. Let’s make it into a nice summer breeze. Hmm, let’s put a house there, and a farmer who works the fields. His skin is purple. He has a son who is the best alchemist in this reality. I need him to make me a potion.
The process of Shadow walking is of course longer and a lot more detailed. There are always several pages of the process in the book. There are many details to consider, and endless possibilities to bend the shape of realities.
I would strongly recommend reading Chronicles of Amber, for they are one of the greatest, and possibly one of the most imaginitive works of fiction of our times.
If you are looking for courtly intrigues, magic, philosophy, evil wizards living at the crossroads of four worlds, bending countless realities at your will, and a humane approach with a splash of humor, you’ve come to the right place.
Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny: Nine Princes in Amber, Guns of Avalon, Sign of the Unicorn, Hand of Oberon, The Courts of Chaos, Trumps Of Doom, Blood of Amber, Sign of Chaos, Knight of Shadows, Prince of Chaos.