This is it—the last post in the Chronicles of Amber reread. We’ve now been through it all. The only thing remaining is the final short story contained in Manna From Heaven, and a commentary on the whole collection.
As mentioned previously, Roger Zelazny died before he could truly finish the series properly. What remains leaves plenty of room for speculation (which I hope you’ll join me in). Without further adieu, let’s jump in.
“The Hall of Mirrors”
In this, the last of the Amber short stories, Zelazny shifts back to cover Corwin again. Corwin and Shask—a Chaos creature who can talk and change shape—have moved on from the Dancing Mountains. They encounter a group of bandits and Corwin quickly attacks, but his attack passes right through his target. Likewise, the bandit attacks pass through both Corwin and Shask.
They push on through, Corwin hellriding until they reach the environs of Amber. There, Shask asks if he can be Corwin’s mount indefinitely. Corwin drops him at the stables and enters the castle, taking a moment to arrange for food. Amidst the construction in the palace he finds his room intact. Luke finds Corwin there, and mistakes him for a Pattern-ghost. Corwin is puzzled by this and offers to bleed for Luke, but Luke’s knife passes right through Corwin’s arm. Luke offers to check Corwin out (using sorcery), but before they reach Luke’s room they stumble upon the Hall of Mirrors. Corwin knows that he must enter and Luke goes with him.
Luke sees Jasra first and she tells him that she is proud of him. Also that she’s going to hang around the Keep for a while. Then they see Oberon, who asks Corwin to stab Luke. Corwin at first refuses but Luke agrees to it. Corwin’s knife passes through Luke harmlessly, but they soon realize that Werewindle can cut Corwin and Grayswandir can cut Luke. Corwin explains that both swords are really transformed spikards; since they ignore the insubstantiality enchantment, Corwin guesses that they are related to it somehow.
Next they meet Dara. She says she sees one of them “lying pierced by the blade of the other.” She claims it is the only way for them to regain full permeability. Luke says he’ll find another way, that Jasra’s a good sorceress—Dara laughs this off, reminding us that Jasra was her maid. Dara also says that Luke and Corwin have become the tools of Powers now.
Eric is next up. He says that he can see both Luke and Corwin on the killing ground and that he will laugh at Corwin’s death. Then Corwin sees Deirdre. He asks he how much of it all is true, but she replies that she isn’t sure. In fact, none of them are certain. Deirdre says they must be transported to the killing ground. Luke and Corwin agree to go along with it until they find out who’s behind it all.
They are transported to a moonlit glade. Nearby, a fire burns with people seated around it. After flipping a coin, Corwin and Luke decide to stay and check it out. The people (“witnesses,” they say) feed them, then Corwin and Luke agree to a play fight. They soon discover, however, that their actions are being partly controlled—if they don’t try to to attack, they will be forced. They also notice two hooded figures that join those seated at the fire.
They try to make things bloody, for the show, but then both Corwin and Luke execute moves they hadn’t planned and each skewers the other. They both fall to the ground, bleeding and dying. The two hooded figures are revealed to be Fiona and Mandor. Corwin swears he’ll live and go after Fiona. She says, “We are not as culpable as you may think. This was—” But then Corwin cuts her off.
Luke and Corwin wake up in the Amber dispensary with IVs hooked up to them. Apparently they were found in the normal hallway in the castle with the Hall of Mirrors gone. Luke asks Corwin if the Hall of Mirrors appeared when he was young. Corwin says no and Flora agrees. She then says, “It’s only in recent years that it’s become this active. Almost as if the place were waking up.”
“The place?” Luke said.
“Almost as if there’s another player in the game,” she responded.
“Who?” I demanded, causing a pain in my gut.
“Why, the castle itself, of course,” she said.
It seems clear from the direction of the stories that Zelazny was working up to widen the Amber cosmology even more. He wrote about tying up loose ends but all the allusions to other powers and the increased prominence of the spikards seems to indicate something far larger than a series of short stories.
I have to say that while it isn’t the direction I might have wanted for the series, I like the short stories (limited as they are), and I find them superior to the Merlin books. Having Corwin back helps, of course, but there’s a sense of mystery pervading the stories that I’m drawn to. I can’t help but speculate about the spikards and their importance. Unfortunately, speculation is all we have. Still, I can glean at least some shape among the shadows. The following are my detailed thoughts. I’d love to hear your own thoughts in the comments.
The Powers: The Merlin books spent a lot of time setting up the struggle between the Pattern and the Logrus, the ancient Order/Chaos struggle, even going so far as to imply that both entities were behind most of the significant events of both series.
The spikards, however, seem to exist independently, their power drawn from Shadow. Corwin says, “Back in the early days of creation, the gods had a series of rings their champions used in the stabilization of Shadow.” My thinking is that since Zelazny set up an instability between the Logrus and the Pattern, and focused them each on the others, that maybe some Shadow powers might rise up, willing to take advantage of that instability in a gamble for power. We know that some of the spikards were harness by Amber (Werewindle and Grayswandir) and Chaos (the ring Swayvill wore) but there are clearly others.
Delwin: We’ve seen Delwin a few times now but he remains a mystery. All we know is that he has a twin sister, Sand, that they left Amber, and that Delwin was named steward of the spikards somehow. We also know he wears one. And that Bleys has some association with him. What Zelazny intended to do with Delwin is unclear. I suppose he could have been used to explain the spikards, dole out information in carefully controlled doses while probably maintaining his own agenda. I’m sure Sand would have come into it, too. Sadly, we only got a glimpse.
The Hidden One: This guy appears (kinda) in two of the stories. He is mentioned by Rhanda in “The Shroudling and the Guisel.” There we learn that he’s in line for the throne of Chaos, that he’s a sorcerer, that Merlin saw him in Suhuy’s pool and that he uses mirrors to get around. In “Coming to a Cord” we learn he has a crush on Flora and that he’s funny looking. It’s clear, again, that Zelazny intended to reveal this person in the future but maddeningly unclear what role he’s supposed to ultimately play. Flora didn’t recognize him which rules out a number of possibilities. But is he known to us?
Positioning: At the end of Prince of Chaos, people were scattered about. Zelazny, in these stories, seems to be trying to move people back into place for the next big tale. Corwin is moved back to Amber as is Luke, with both of them finally bearing their respective blades (those same blades seemed far more slippery in the last series). Frakir comes one step closer to Merlin again. Suhuy seems to take his true place as Dworkin’s opposite. Merlin is freed up from having to be king of Chaos (just yet) by suddenly appearing rivals. If Zelazny had begun a new series, I wonder who would have taken center stage. Luke is probably the most likely suspect since he’s “new” and he gets his own POV story. But Zelazny could have returned to Corwin or Merlin again, too. Or perhaps even all three for a departure.
Final Thoughts: I really enjoyed rereading the Amber shorts. They may feel a little slight but there’s an energy to them that I find irresistible. We also get a more varied set of POVs (Frakir, Luke) while getting a double-dose of Corwin. Also the Logrus and Pattern don’t even show up (which I appreciate). They seem like they would have been a good basis for a new series. Unfortunately, Zelazny died before he could write more. So they remain bittersweet.
That’s it for the reread. That’s all of Zelazny’s Amber. What did you think of it all in the end? Let me know in the comments. And thanks to all of you for reading along. I appreciate everyone who came along for the (hell)ride!
Rajan Khanna is a writer, narrator and reviewer who loves every opportunity to dive back into Zelazny’s Amber universe. He is a regular columnist for LitReactor and his narrations have appeared on a variety of podcasting sites. His first novel, Falling Sky, will be out from Pyr in Fall 2014. You can follow him on his website, and he tweets @rajanyk.