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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.

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, par Ledroit
Benedict (French cover by Olivier Ledroit)

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.

your guess?
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 reach...


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.

Tir-na Nog'th
Tir-na Nog'th

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.

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.

The Unicorn...
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 several wars.

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 into troubles.
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, by Ledroit
Merlin (French cover by Olivier Ledroit

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*
Note on the illustrations : two of them were not at all designed for Amber, but I thought they fitted well :

Some links about Amber

Links checked / revised in December 2002

You can also check Amber's webring : The Golden Circle

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