Welcome to the fourth installment of the Chronicles of Amber reread, this time focusing on The Hand of Oberon. By now the greater threat facing Amber has been revealed and it’s up to Corwin and his family to try to figure out how to combat it.
What Happens: When we last left Corwin, he was traveling with Ganelon and Random to a large version of the Pattern in some strange part of Amber that none of them had ever seen before. Corwin believes (and Ganelon vocalizes) that this is the true Amber and that the Amber that they know, that they’ve always known, is but its first Shadow.
They find a dark stain on the Pattern and Ganelon, demonstrating some remarkable intuition, surmises that it must be related to the Black Road. There’s also something small and white in the middle of the Pattern, near the stain. There’s some debate about whether Corwin or Random should try to enter the Pattern. They’d have to walk it to the end and it would likely be harder than the Pattern they’re used to. And who knows what the black stain would do to them? While they’re discussing, Ganelon runs and jumps to where the white paper-looking thing is and comes back with a Trump.
They don’t recognize the person on the Trump, and it seems to be drawn in a different style than the Trumps they’re used to. Then they discover that the Primal Pattern is guarded by a geriatric griffin, though one more leathery and serpentine than those we are familiar with. The griffin is chained to a cave next to the Primal Pattern. Spooked by the griffin, one of their horses bolts onto the Pattern and is destroyed by a kind of miniature tornado.
They piece together—or rather Ganelon helps them figure out—that it’s the blood of Amber that has stained the Pattern. To test this, Ganelon has Random prick the tip of his finger and he lets a drop of his blood fall onto the Pattern. It blackens the design where it falls. They figure that someone must have attacked a member of the family on the Pattern to create the large stain. Random figures it out before anyone else. Examining the Trump, he guesses that someone walked the Pattern, used the Trump, then stabbed the subject. Random also guesses who the picture is of, his son Martin.
What follows is a quick recap of the events of the previous books as Corwin thinks back on recent events. Corwin thinks he recognizes the hand of Brand in the art on the Trump and Random’s promise to kill whoever stabbed Martin is a bit of a worry. Corwin needs Brand, or rather the information that Brand has. He tries to deflect Random by telling him that Benedict might know where Martin was and that Martin had visited Benedict, stretching some information he had received from Dara.
They Trump through via Benedict to get back to normal Amber and Random asks Benedict about Martin. He goes on to fill Benedict in on everything that happened since Corwin left Tir-na Nog’th. Benedict confirms that the Trump is of Martin and that Martin came to visit him after leaving Rebma (where he was raised). Benedict also confirms that Martin showed up injured to friends of Benedict’s years ago. Benedict agrees to go with Random to his friends to see if they can track down Martin but not before giving Corwin Martin’s Trump.
Corwin returns to the palace with Ganelon and on the way, Ganelon mentions that the arm that Corwin retrieved from Tir-na Nog’th was in the saddlebag of the horse that Random took. Ganelon also urges Corwin to tell Benedict about his relationship to Dara. Corwin, still haunted by his vision in the sky city, is hesitant.
Corwin meets with Vialle, Random’s wife, to tell her where her husband went. He’s impressed by her, and by extension Random. He tells her that his hatred of Eric left when Eric died, and that he no longer is driven by the desire to gain the throne. Vialle suspects that he is driven by duty.
Corwin heads next for the dungeon and his former cell in particular. After pushing though his post-traumatic stress, he makes an attempt to restore Dworkin’s picture of the Lighthouse of Cabra from Nine Princes in Amber. Having had that practice he then turns to the other drawing, the one that Dworkin used to return to wherever he came from. He restores the picture and steps through to Dworkin’s study.
In a scene reminiscent of amnesiac Corwin from Nine Princes, Corwin is mistaken by Dworkin for Oberon and Corwin goes with it, bluffing his way to answers. Dworkin thinks Oberon has shapeshifted into the form of Corwin and he demonstrates a similar ability. Dworkin lets loose with a torrent of information: how he came from the Courts of Chaos; how he discovered the Unicorn with the Jewel of Judgment around its neck; how he transcribed the Pattern inside the Jewel and created Amber. He also mentions a “cure.”
Dworkin goes on to say that he and the Pattern are linked, reflected in one another—and therefore only he could damage it. What he didn’t realize was that his blood, even through his descendants, could damage it as well. Dworkin feels the best way to deal with the damaged Pattern is to destroy it (and himself) and have Oberon remake a new Pattern with the Jewel of Judgment.
Corwin stresses that he would rather repair it. Dworkin doesn’t agree, but he also says that he essentially can’t agree with it. The damage to the Pattern is reflected in him, and he can’t envision the possibility of repair any longer.
The two of them go to see the Pattern and Dworkin indicates that the purple griffin (named Wixer) had been set there to keep him away from the Pattern. Dworkin explains that he can no longer understand how to repair the Pattern. Corwin/Oberon must walk the broken Pattern, risking destruction by leaving it. The Jewel might protect him, but maybe not. And it will become more and more difficult, draining more and more of his energy.
Dworkin confirms that Martin’s Trump was drawn by Brand. Then he recognizes Corwin for who he really is. He admits that Corwin might be able to fix the Pattern by using the Jewel. He warns Corwin that the Jewel might have a distorting effect on Shadow. He also says that when the bearer is nearing the end of his energies and things are slowing down, that it’s possible to draw on the energy of the Pattern inside the Jewel by surrendering one’s identity to it.
Corwin has more questions, but the madness begins to come on Dworkin, and he starts to shift shape. He fears harming Corwin and warns him to leave. Corwin runs to Dworkin’s desk and grabs a handful of Trumps, using the first one to transport himself to the Courts of Chaos.
It’s, well, a chaotic place and Corwin stands there just looking at it for a while. He remembers being taken there as a child. A warrior from the Courts rides out to meet him, recognizing him by his sword, and they fight. Corwin is ultimately victorious. Then another warrior with a crossbow again recognizes the sword. But this one lets him go. Corwin feels something strange when looking at him.
Corwin attempts Trump contact with Random, but realizes that his younger brother is on a hellride through Shadow. Instead, he contacts Gerard who brings him through. Seems that Brand has recovered and wants to talk to him. He’s also in one of his dark moods. Gerard also tells Corwin that Random is off to find Martin and that Benedict returned to Amber wearing the arm that Corwin took from Tir-na Nog’th.
Corwin goes to speak to Brand, who does seem royally pissed. Corwin confronts Brand with Martin’s Trump, revealing his knowledge of the Primal Pattern. Brand admits to stabbing Martin, and trying to kill him. Corwin lies again as to the source of his knowledge about the Pattern, claiming he just paid attention to Dworkin growing up. Corwin mentions that he has been to the Courts and there were no troops massed there. Brand stalls by bringing up that he once almost killed Corwin, but ultimately didn’t because Corwin was standing on Brand’s favorite rug. Then he claims ignorance.
Brand then says that Bleys is still alive and he suggests the family join in attempting Trump contact long enough for Brand to attack him as well as Fiona. He also requests the Jewel of Judgment to give him the edge in taking on Fiona, known as a capable sorceress. Corwin refuses and insists on doing things his way before leaving.
Corwin grabs a new horse and is heading down to where his forces are camped when Ganelon demonstrates even more ingenuity by contacting him by Trump. Ganelon tells Corwin that he filled Benedict in on everything, particularly his relationship to Dara. Corwin is wary, but it seems to go a long way to repairing the rift between the two brothers. Benedict asks exactly what happened in Tir-na Nog’th and Corwin tells him. Benedict intends to track Dara down and talk to her, but not until the Black Road is dealt with.
Corwin brings up that he was at the Courts of Chaos and that the Black Road runs all the way there. Corwin gives Benedict the Trump for it and Benedict intends to study the place for himself. Gerard appears before anyone can set off, though, saying that Brand has disappeared and that his room was wrecked and there was blood in it. Gerard still doesn’t trust Corwin, but Corwin doesn’t have time for his suspicions. When Gerard grabs Corwin’s shoulder, Corwin hits him.
They fight again and Gerard tries to choke Corwin until Ganelon stops him. Demonstrating surprising strength, Ganelon manages to take down Gerard, allowing Corwin to depart. Corwin heads off for Shadow Earth, but he must pass through the forest of Arden first. Corwin starts fearing the appearance of Julian, since Arden is basically his domain. He hears Julian’s hounds and sees some pursuit, but it turns out that he is being pursued by a manticore instead. Julian’s hounds take it on and Julian strikes the killing blow.
Julian and Corwin talk and Julian fills in what his group’s motives were. He explains that Corwin was basically a pawn, used by the red-heads but ultimately expendable. It was Julian’s idea to blind Corwin, but mostly so that he could stay alive and wouldn’t be a threat to anyone. He claims it saved Corwin’s life.
He also mentions that Fiona tried to kill Brand because she feared him, though Julian would have tried if he could. Brand apparently has the power to travel through Shadow with his mind, bringing things to him without moving. He can also transport his body in a similar fashion. Julian claims he can also read thoughts at times. Julian calls him a “living Trump.” Julian and Corwin also seem to have repaired their relationship somewhat by the end of the conversation. Enough so that that Julian says, “I think the Corwin I hated must have died centuries ago.”
Corwin hellrides to the Shadow Earth, fearful that Brand is on the trail as well, but when he arrives, he finds the compost heap where he hid the Jewel is gone. He tracks down his friend, Bill Roth, who tells him that the compost heap was hauled away to prepare the house for sale. It also seems that Brand has already been there. A thin, bearded redhead both appeared as the prospective buyer of the house and as an artist near where the compost heap was moved. Corwin, fearing the worst, Trump-messages back to Gerard to guard the Patterns in both Amber and Rebma since Brand would have to attune himself to the Jewel on the Pattern.
Corwin continues to search the compost heap, but the Jewel isn’t there. Gerard messages Corwin to tell him that Brand appeared at the Amber Pattern but that he left when he saw Gerard. Then Fiona messages Corwin telling him that Brand has the Jewel and that he will try to walk the Primal Pattern. The damage there won’t affect him, apparently.
Fiona comes through to Corwin and they ride Drum, Corwin’s horse. Fiona shifts Shadow to take them back to the Primal Pattern. On the way Fiona confirms Brand’s story up until a point. She says that it was she and Bleys who balked from the plan and imprisoned Brand (rather than kill him) because he knew how to repair the Pattern. Fiona also says that it was Brand who shot out Corwin’s tires. He had used electroshock to try to destroy Corwin’s memory and when that didn’t work, he tried to kill him. It was Bleys who called the police. Brand was afraid of Corwin because he had seen a vision of him returning in Tir-na Nog’th.
When they arrive at the Primal Pattern, Brand is already walking it with the Jewel of Judgment. Corwin walks the Pattern, too, with Grayswandir, hoping to catch up to Brand, or at least get within reach of him. When Corwin reaches the blackened section of the Pattern, he uses Grayswandir to trace its path and it gets him through (Grayswandir contains a portion of the Pattern, after all).
Corwin realizes that he’s about to spill more blood onto the Pattern, but he has to stop Brand. Using his attunement to the Jewel, Corwin reaches out to it, trying to summon one of the tornadoes that had destroyed the horse earlier. As Corwin reaches Brand and they start to duel, one of the tornadoes appears and starts to descend on Brand. Then lightning shoots down disarming him. Brand flees, stepping onto a blackened part of the Pattern and transporting himself away.
Later, Corwin stands on Kolvir and meets Random’s son, Martin. Martin wants revenge on Brand but Corwin tries to talk him out of it. Martin updates Corwin on what happened with him and confirms that he met Dara some time after he was stabbed by Brand. He was the one who told her about the family and the Pattern. She claimed her people were trying to address a metaphysical imbalance by destroying Amber.
Ganelon then contacts Corwin and dissuades him from going into Tir-na Nog’th himself. He wouldn’t beat Brand there with his powers and he warns that Brand might be partially attuned to the Jewel himself. Instead, Benedict is waiting at the center of the Pattern in Amber to transport himself to the city in the sky when Corwin indicates and Corwin can then bring him through if the city fades.
Things happened as planned and Brand appears. He tries to tempt Benedict, offering him power, anything he desires, but Benedict doesn’t budge. Then Benedict offers Brand a chance to end it, but Brand refuses. Then Brand uses the Jewel to freeze Benedict in place and removes a knife. Before he can use it, though, Benedict’s strange arm reaches out and grabs the chain on the Jewel and lifts Brand up, choking him. The chain breaks, but Benedict retains the Jewel. Then a cloud bank blocks the moon causing the city to fade away. Corwin Trumps Benedict out, but Brand falls down into the ocean.
They guess Brand is dead from the fall and Corwin speculates on Benedict’s strange arm and the fact that it just happened to save them all. He sees someone’s hand in all of this. Oberon’s. He mentions this to Benedict who is skeptical. So Corwin uses Oberon’s Trump and Ganelon answers.
“That was a fine piece of work,” Ganelon said. “I am pleased that you brought back my trinket. I’ll be needing it soon.”
Revelations: This novel is full of explanations for what really happened. Right at the end there we find out that Ganelon is really Oberon. But has he always been? Was this a last minute switcheroo? We’ll have to wait for the next volume to find out. But this helps explain Ganelon’s uncanny insight and his ability to best Gerard. If anything, Corwin was a bit blind not to see how odd that was.
We also find out what the larger scheme is here. Corwin has apparently been trapped between a cabal of Eric, Caine, and Julian, and another with Bleys, Brand, and Fiona. The latter made a deal with the Courts of Chaos but then pulled away when Brand went too far, eventually imprisoning him. Corwin’s was more of a pawn than a key player—everything that has happened to him in the series until now has been because of the different sides trying to use him in some way, or at least remove him from the playing field.
And that means, of course, that Brand is the mastermind behind all of this. Despite Corwin’s curse, it’s Brand who has aligned with the Courts of Chaos and Brand who has damaged the Primal Pattern. It seems his ambition is only matched by his strange powers, him being a so-called “Living Trump.” Unfortunately, Brand falls to his death at the end of the novel. Though Bleys was also supposed to be falling to his death at the end of Nine Princes and we’ve been told he’s still alive. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.
Cosmology: Dworkin spills much about the background of the Amber royal family. He reveals that he is their grandfather and that he came from the Courts of Chaos. He found the Unicorn with the Jewel of Judgment around her neck and used it to inscribed the Primal Pattern, establishing an opposing pole of Order in the universe and gaining the enmity of the Courts.
He also says that the Unicorn is their grandmother (Oberon’s mother), though the veracity of that claim is difficult to judge, mentally unstable as Dworkin is. Dworkin demonstrates abilities similar to those of the Courts (he can shapeshift, for example) and it’s clear, especially at the end of the book, that Oberon can do the same as well.
It also becomes clear why only the Blood of Amber can work the Pattern: it’s tied to Dworkin’s blood, and apparently that extends to the fourth generation (Martin) and beyond (if we assume that Dara is several generations descended from Benedict).
Amberites: It looks like we lose Brand at the end of this novel, but it’s okay because we get someone new—Martin, Random’s son. In typical Amber fashion, Martin is pretty much a stranger to his father, but the newer softer Random seems to want to change that. Still, Martin’s introduction into the family is not the easiest meeting.
And speaking of Random, we actually get a scene with Vialle, his wife, reflecting both well on her and on Random. Corwin’s change is evident in the books, but it seems that those he spends the most time with also seem to change as well, particularly Random, though much of that can be attributed to Vialle as well seems to be one of the finest individuals in the novels.
And while Julian and Fiona have been seen before now, Corwin gets to make peace of a sorts with the brother he once hated and has some time with Fiona, who helps fill him in on the more supernatural side of things, helping to make sure he is able to meet with Brand. I’ve always thought that Corwin has a particular liking for Fiona despite her occasional scheming.
So that’s The Hand of Oberon. What did you think? Were you surprised by some of the revelations? Make sure to check back next time for the concluding volume of the first series, The Courts of Chaos.
Rajan Khanna is a writer, narrator and blogger who would sometimes like to walk through Shadow. Of course if Amber existed, he would also like to see it some day. You can follow him on his website, and he tweets @rajanyk.