Jul 25 2013 2:30pm

Roger Zelazny’s The Chronicles of Amber

Writing about Michael Moorcock recently made me think of the writing legends that had the most influence on me. These include people as far apart as Oscar Wilde and Fritz Leiber. But no one, perhaps, more so than Roger Zelazny.

I was in college when I discovered Roger Zelazny, reading “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” in a class. I really enjoyed it and thought about reading more from the author. But it wasn’t until a year or so later, when I discovered The Chronicles of Amber, that I really fell in love with his writing.

My girlfriend at the time had the old two-volume Science Fiction Book Club edition of Zelazny’s stories. One with a yellow cover, the other an almost avocado color, both with the same Boris Vallejo cover of a shirtless man in a ridiculous red cape facing off against two cat-like creatures in a dark forest.

I needed something to read, so I picked the first volume up and found the fantasy series that would change my life. That sounds like hyperbole, I know, but both as a reader and a writer, Zelazny’s Amber books had a huge effect on me.

To start with, they had many of the things I enjoy in stories. Witty, charming, and delightfully unreliable first person narrator? Check. Near-immortal beings? Check. Travel between worlds? Check. Dysfunctional families and the resulting politics of such? Check. And yet it was so much more than this laundry list of items.

To this day, the Amber books are some of the select novels that I will re-read on a regular basis, usually every few years. And I never seem to tire of them. The novels that can stand up to that kind of regular scrutiny are few and far between for me. My interest and excitement in these books hasn’t waned, not in the five or so times I’ve been through them.

Zelazny wrote ten Amber novels—five that are amazing, five that have their flaws—and a scattering of short stories. In the coming weeks, I plan to go through them and take a look at each, sharing my thoughts on them as I go. If you’ve read the books, please feel free to take a look back with me. If you never have, feel free to read along. The books are short. You could easily get through one in a week.

Let us walk through Shadows together, and make for Amber. We begin with Nine Princes in Amber.

Steven Halter
1. stevenhalter
That's exactly the same edition I have. The sword doesn't look much like I picture Grayswandir, but the giant siamese cats are good.
2. Gristleborn
The cover is depicting a scene from Guns of Avalon, if I remember correctly. I have these editions as well, and I was actually a bit self-conscious about busting them out in public places.
Alicia Dodson
5. LynMars
I had those editions once; they were my uncle's. I loaned one to a friend and never saw it again, and the other ended up given away/lost at some point after I obtained The Great Book of Amber.

I first found these novels as a preteen, reading a slim black-covered copy of Nine Princes in Amber found on the odd little bookshelf my parents kept in the house; I think they were all leftover high school and relatives' college books, mainly, and a few supermarket/airline queue titles. I didn't find out about the rest of the series until high school at which point I devoured them all. I found other books by Zelazny too, but wasn't ready for Lord of Light as a reader until much more recently. I found all the short stories both online and in print form as well.

This is one of my absolute favorite series of all time. I love the RPG based off it too, and have drug a few friends on adventures in Amber and Shadow a few times. I'm going to enjoy this look of Corwin, Merlin, and their worlds!
Michael Grosberg
6. Michael_GR
There's one thing about the Amber chronicles I don't understand: How is it that they were never made into a movie?
There are five books in the first Chronicles. With some editing, they can be re-cut into a movie trilogy. The have brand name recognition among fans. they are totally unlike anything else out there. There are battles and romances and mystery and magic, plenty of characters to choose to focus on or ignore, and the shadow-shifting should provide plenty of work for the special effects houses.
And yet it has somehow slipped through the cracks of the Hollywood machine. I find it almost unbelievable.
7. mirana
I have these. They were buried in a collection my parents had. I read the second one because the first one wasn't discovered at that point. I remember being annoyed that the cover character/situation didn't match the inside at all. Ahhh, the innocence of a child! ;) I need to read them at some point. In order...
Corey Sees
8. CorwinOfAmber
My mother read these while she was pregnant with me. I was named after Corwin's alias: Mr. Corey. I always have one of the most interesting stories when people discuss how they got their names.
Alan Brown
9. AlanBrown
I fell in love with that first Amber series. It was great from beginning to end. I remember our Coast Guard Cutter pulled into Homer, AK for a day and a night to take on stores, finding the last book of the series in the library, and begging the librarian to let me take it out, even though I didn't live in town. She hesitated, and it was the only time I ever used that old cliche of swearing on my honor as an officer and gentleman, which won her over. And true to my word, I dropped the finished book into the night deposit slot in the wee hours of the morning, and as we got underway, I was dog tired but grinning from ear to ear.
10. Eugene R.
I, too, picked up the old 2-volume SFBC edition, and I must say, the cover art is a step up from the original 1970 Avon paperback edition, which features a knight in plate armor atop a caparisoned steed, a scene far, far away from anything in Nine Princes in Amber. Well, the knight is wearing black and white, with a black rose on a white shield, sooo ...
11. decgem
The boys down the street from me growing up were named Corwin and Bleys, and I grew up thinking that was perfectly normal. Not until years later, when a friend loaned me the Great Book, did I understand how weird their parents must be--in a wonderful way. Amber had a deep but subtle impact on me too--particularly in my interest in fantasy that depicts reshaping reality and, above all, great, huge, complex, dysfunctional families. Looking forward to this look back at these fascinating books!
Alicia Dodson
12. LynMars
@6 Last I understood, the Amber properties were wrapped up in development hell, and I think owned by what's now SyFy.

Also, if whoever authorized those awful prequels (when there's plenty of evidence, and anecdotes from Neil Gaiman and George RR Martin, that Zelazny explicitly didn't want anyone else writing new Amber stories, but unfortunately never got that down legally) is in any way invovled, I dunno that we'd want to drag the films out.
13. Galadriel
I am so ashamed. These two SFBC volumes have been on the floor in my extra bedroom for years... UNREAD. Bought used eons ago and simply stored, likely due to those awful covers. However: Rajan, you and these commenters have shown me the error of my ways. I pledge to read both these volumes cover to cover and, when I find myself enjoying them, I shall kick myself for neglecting Mr. Zelazny's work all these years.
Terence Tidler
14. libertariansoldier
Love the series and looking forward to the reread. Does anyone know why the originals have never been published as Ebooks?
15. Nicholas Winter
@14: Ask his widow as she's been very reluctant to allow his works to be published in *any* media.
16. INCyr
Yay, Zelazny love! I discovered him through a friends recommendation of Amber, and fell in love with him. He's still one of my favorite authors, even if I'm moved on to others in the past decade. I will say, though, as my tastes have matured, I've come to love most of his shorter fiction more than his novels - he was truly the master of the short story.

But Amber will always have a place in my heart, if nothing more than Nine Princes, and the opening to Trumps of Doom.
Dustin Freshly
17. Fresh0130
Such a fun series. I loved all of the reality bending, well thought out characters, and the swerves it throws at you.

I too reread these once every couple of years and the only thing that makes me even remotely sad is that Zelazny never got to explore the World/s to the extent that it appeared he meant to.

That being said, I'm still happy as a pig in mud with what we have and smile hugely when I pull it off my shelf whenever the reread bug bites me.

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