It’s here—Prince of Chaos, the last book in Zelazny’s second Amber series, and the culmination of Merlin’s story. It’s hard to choose favorites sometimes, but in rereading the book I think that it may be my favorite of the Merlin books. Why? Well, why not read on after the cut?
What Happens: Prince of Chaos picks up just after the Coronation of Luke in Kashfa, essentially where the last book, Knight of Shadows, left off. And the news that Luke and Coral are married turns out to be not that big a deal; they were married as children, as a political move, and Coral is the key to potentially resolving the dispute over the Eregnor region we heard quite a bit about in previous books. Coral asks Merlin to spend the night with her and he does. Of course, because this is Merlin, he can’t even sleep the night without interruption. He’s awakened by Gryll, a demon and old family servant, who informs him that Swayvill, King of Chaos, has died and Merlin has to return immediately.
Merlin and Gryll travel to Chaos, with the servant able to traverse shadow quite speedily. With Merlin on his back, Gryll flies along something akin to the Black Road, only in the sky. Merlin sees upheaval around them in Shadow, an effect Gryll attributes to the death of Swayvill. There is an imbalance between the Logrus and the Pattern because of Corwin's second Pattern.
Merlin thinks then of Frakir and remembers leaving her behind in the castle in Amber. Relizing this is strange, he asks Gryll if there’s a spell on him and Gryll confirms this, but he can’t lift it because it’s too entangled around Merlin.
Merlin then asks about ty’igas, wanting to help Nayda. Gryll doesn’t have a lot to say about Nayda’s predicament, but thinks someone in the Courts might know more. They reach Merlin’s uncle Suhuy’s place in Chaos. As we learned in previous books, Suhuy is a sorcerer and Logrus master, and was Merlin's and Mandor's teacher. Incidentally, this book sets him up almost as a counterpart to Dworkin on the Chaos side.
We also get our first glimpse of Chaos, from the inside at least. Whereas Amber is the one fixed reality, Chaos is constantly shifting, and Merlin describes “the shadows are like frayed curtains in the Courts—often, you can look right through into another reality without even trying.”
Suhuy informs Merlin that he’s under black watch. Merlin is confused until Suhuy (with some help from Mandor) explains that the death toll has gotten so great in Chaos that Merlin is now third in line for the throne, behind some guys named Tmer and Tubble. This is confusing since Mandor is older than Merlin, and Merlin himself had said that he would be behind Mandor, but Zelazny seems to be focusing on Dara’s lineage here instead, which wouldn’t affect Mandor.
Dara appears and Merlin confronts her about sending the ty’iga, Nayda, to shadow and protect him. Dara seems to have had reasons for it beyond not trusting Merlin. They make plans to meet up for dinner and then Dara leaves.
Merlin takes some rest and dreams of the Corridor of Mirrors, and is visited by a multitude of visions. First he sees Coral begging for her eye back. Then Luke appears and asks after his father’s sword, saying it will come in handy and insisting it’s Merlin’s fault that it is missing. Victor Melman appears and accuses Merlin of killing him, though Merlin considers that a suicide. Random asks Merlin to return to Amber because they need to talk. Julia tells Merlin that she loved him (Merlin admits the same) and Merlin expresses his regret. Jasra admonishes Merlin for having a bad influence on her son (and his not wanting to rule). The parade continues with Nayda, now looking for Luke, whom she loves. Merlin tells her he’s in Kashfa.
Jurt appears to renew the hostilities between him and his brother. Next up is Fiona, who explains that Corwin’s Pattern upset the balance between the Logrus and Pattern; now that Merlin has strengthened the Pattern (courtesty of the sex scene from the previous book), it will likely make a move on Corwin’s Pattern. Corwin himself appears, saying he’s in a place without light and hints that the “Corwin” Merlin saw earlier was a ghost. Merlin asks how he can help his father and Corwin mentions the Courts. Then Bill Roth tells Merlin he’ll always be there to do his lawyering, Dworkin tells Merlin to “escape the cage that is your life,” and the Cheshire Cat tries to lure Merlin back to the cabaret. Then Merlin wakes up.
The next morning, Suhuy reveals to Merlin that he used a spell to help guide Merlin to some enlightenment in the Corridor, but also explains that the trip was still more or less real. Then Merlin catches up with Ghost, who seems to have evolved a bit since attuning himself to the Jewel of Judgment. Having familiarized himself with the Pattern, he now wants to check out the Logrus. Merlin helps get him on his way.
Then Merlin flips through his Trumps and tries to get through to Coral but instead finds her dreaming (she doesn’t really do much, this Coral, does she?). Then Merlin sees Corwin’s card and tries to contact him. He gets the beginnings of a Trump contact, and even hears Corwin, but then a black bird flies through the card, screeching “Forbidden!” When Merlin relates this to Suhuy, he mentions that Corwin might be under a spell. Odd that Merlin could reach him from the Courts, though. Merlin asks Suhuy what happened when Corwin came to visit the Courts, and considers that maybe House Hendrake (Dara’s House) might have wanted revenge for Borel's death. Suhuy doesn’t think it likely, however.
Merlin then heads to Mandor’s place where they eat luxuriously, as seems to be their wont. Then Mandor starts opines that the conflict between the Pattern and Logrus seems to be heating up and how it may have caused Swayvill's death. He also suggests that all this has been to put Merlin on the throne of Chaos. Merlin almost scoffs at him, but decides to follow his father’s example and say very little and let Mandor spill.
Mandor suggests that the Pattern and Logrus have long been striving against one another, first using Oberon and Swavill as their agents. Later, he suspects the Logrus made Brand its agent and that the Pattern responded by selecting Corwin as its Champion. When Corwin refused the throne, the Pattern (in its guise as the Unicorn) selected Random. But Corwin succeeded in not only restoring the balance, but tipping things in the Pattern’s favor by adding a second Pattern. The Pattern then abducted Coral (when she told it to send her wherever it wanted), manipulating Merlin into repairing the Broken Pattern and strengthening the Pattern even more. This lured the Logrus into making a play to get the Eye of Chaos (the Jewel of Judgment). Of course it was thwarted. But it had made an attempt to make Merlin it’s Champion. Mandor thinks that it might want to see Merlin on the throne. Mandor also mentions something strange he saw when visiting House Hendrake. He came across a shrine to Benedict. Strange...
Merlin leaves Mandor and before he goes to see his mother, he takes a stroll through a place he used to visit as a child with a shadow girl called Rhanda. As Merlin reminisces, Luke shows up. Or at least it seems to be Luke. He mentions that Chaos is where Brand met Jasra and that Jasra was a maid-companion to Dara, who apparently taught her sorcery.
It soon becomes apparent that Luke is a Pattern-ghost and when Merlin finds out, he forces Luke to drink his blood, which has the effect of empowering him. Of course soon afterward, Borel, a Logrus-ghost appears, followed quickly by the Logrus itself. Before they can do anything, though, another entity appears, like the Pattern but not, and it sweeps the Logrus away. Then Corwin appears soon after and faces off against Borel. Again. And again, Corwin manages to take down Borel in a less than chivalrous (but effective) manner. Merlin gets them out and they run for the weird-Patternlike thing and into it. Inside they run through shadow until the tunnel they’re running through collapses. But in-between shadows, Merlin finds his old red Chevy again and they drive it to the site of Corwin’s Pattern. Corwin reveals that he’s really a Pattern-ghost (though from Corwin’s Pattern) and since he’s the only one who walked that Pattern, he has special status with it. He also admits to being the Corwin that Merlin encountered in the last book, the one who was kicking around in Amber.
Ghost Corwin talks to his Pattern who agrees to take Ghost Luke in, but to do so they must all walk Corwin’s Pattern. Which they do. Luke agrees to help guard the Pattern against the intrusions of the original Pattern and the Logrus. Corwin also tells Merlin that on reflection, he thinks that maybe Dara’s original aim wasn’t to take the Pattern but to bear a son of Amber. Luke and Corwin stick around, but Merlin has an appointment with his mother and gets the Pattern to send him back to Chaos, or at least as close as it can so that he can get back.
Once back, Merlin runs into Glait, a snake creature that was one of his childhood playmates. Glait shows him a hidden portal in a metal art forest. On the other side of this hidden passage is a shrine, this one to Corwin. And Grayswandir is there. Merlin isn’t sure what it means, but he returns to Dara’s house and meets her for their meal.
Dara is a cool customer, giving only when pressed. She hints that she is very connected, that she’s a powerful sorceress. She also hints that Mandor is dangerous and has his own agenda. When pressed, however, she urges Merlin to take the side of Chaos (the Logrus) in the ongoing struggle and that he should take the throne. She further confirms that Corwin was carefully selected so that Dara would bear the next king of Chaos.
They are interrupted by the appearance of Ghostwheel, seeking sanctuary from the pursuing Logrus. Ghost assayed the Logrus but the Logrus isn’t happy about it and demands Merlin turn it over. Merlin refuses. Dara interposes herself between Merlin and the Logrus saying that she dispatched men from House Hendrake to grab “the bride of Chaos” and that is where the Logrus should be. The Logrus, however, presses Merlin as to whether or not he will take the throne. Merlin says he’ll take it if it’s the best way to set things right and this pleases the Logrus enough that it goes on its way.
On its way out, however, the Logrus tells Dara to ask Merlin about Luke and Corwin and the new Pattern, which Dara does. Merlin fills her in. She then confirms that she did indeed send Jasra to ensnare Brand when he came to the Courts seeking power. Merlin presses Dara on what happened to Corwin. Dara insists Corwin is dead but Merlin refuses to accept that, which angers Dara. She finally tells Merlin that he can seek Corwin in the Pit of Chaos.
Merlin hangs about in Chaos for a bit and Jurt finds him. Merlin is ready to destroy his brother, but Jurt claims he wants only to talk. He says that he wanted the throne but now he’s having second thoughts. He suspects he would only end up as a puppet. Then he brings up Julia, saying that she never wanted Jurt to kill Merlin. Her quarrel was with Jasra and she only wanted to prove she was better than Merlin. Jurt seems to truly love her and she’s actually in Chaos. Merlin asks Jurt to tell her that he’s sorry and that he’d like to talk to her.
Merlin is satisfied enough to call off the feud and Jurt is happy with that. Jurt also shares that he thinks that Dara and the Logrus are “stacking the deck.” Dara sent agents to abduct Coral so that she could be Merlin’s queen (the aforementioned “Bride of Chaos.” Neither of them are happy with that and Jurt says they should go rescue her. Only Swayvill’s funeral is about to begin. Merlin hatches a scheme where they make an appearance at the funeral, get seen, then take advantage of the time differential to go after Coral.
They dress and put in their appearance, but people are keeping a close eye on them because of the succession. Merlin uses sorcery to disguise two other Chaosians as them and transport themselves to Kashfa. But it appears (by Trump contact) that Coral is already drugged. Merlin Trump messages to Luke (first warning him that Jurt is with him) and they go through. Luke confirms that Coral was kidnapped (and also that he hates being king) and Merlin takes him out of Kashfa and to Corwin’s Pattern.
There, Luke meets Rinaldo (as Corwin names the Luke Pattern-ghost). Rinaldo’s guarding the Pattern since Ghost Corwin is away, and he can’t leave, so Jurt and Merlin decide to pop back to the funeral to see what’s going on. Of course their deception has been discovered by then, and poor Tmer, one of the Chaosians in front of Merlin in the succession, has been knocked off. Merlin is seen then returns (with Jurt) to Corwin’s Pattern.
Back at the Pattern, Corwin still hasn’t returned, but Jurt offers to take over guarding the Pattern while Rinaldo joins Merlin and Luke. They return to Kashfa where Luke sets his double up to take his place while he leaves to go get Coral with Merlin and Nayda (who found Luke and kindled a romance with him). Nayda seems to be able to track Coral, but before they head off, Merlin returns back once again to the funeral.
At the funeral, they’re about to commit Swayvill’s body to the Pit, but unfortunately (or fortunately for some), Tubble, the only remaining person in front of Merlin in the succession, goes into the Pit with him. Merlin realizes he’s about to be mobbed so he grabs Gilva, a Chaosian he knows, and takes her to the Corwin shrine. There he asks he if she knows what it is. She tells him that after the war between Amber and Chaos, there became a fascination with Amber and that a cult grew up around people there. House Hendrake had Benedict as their patron and even Mandor seems to favor Fiona (makes sense, right?).
Dara’s imminent arrival forces them to leave and Merlin sends Gilva back to the funeral while he heads back to Luke and Nayda. They’ve been riding down the black road leading to where the Chaosians took Coral. And Dalt’s with them. They take the road further and Luke asks about the spikard. Merlin takes it off and feels immediately dizzy. Luke senses a spell on it that affects a person’s behavior but Merlin feels that it’s been benign. Merlin also talks about trying to bust Corwin out of whatever prison he’s in.
Eventually they reach a tower guarded by demonform Chaosians. Outside are Benedict, Caine and Eric of Amber. And fighting one another in the center of a circle are Gerard and a Chaosian named Chinaway. The Amberites are clearly Pattern-ghosts (Eric and Caine are dead, after all, or at least Eric definitely is). Merlin takes advantage of the distraction and makes himself invisible so he can sneak inside and grab Coral. Which he does, taking out some of the Chaosian guards as he moves. Of course by this time Gerard has killed his opponent and the Amberites demand Coral. Merlin uses the spikard to kill them all.
Then the Pattern appears and demands Coral. Merlin prepares to whisk everyone away using the spikard again, but first the Pattern transfers them all to the place of the Primal Pattern. It threatens to keep them there, but Merlin cuts his hand and threatens to bleed all over the Pattern (a fatal flaw in the Pattern’s attempted manipulations, methinks). The Pattern tries to convince Merlin that things will be better with it ascendent—a golden age of learning and knowledge. But Merlin still refuses to take sides. He has the Pattern transport all of them away, save Luke who stays behind to keep the pressure on the Pattern.
They go back to Corwin’s Pattern where Merlin leaves Coral, Nayda and Dalt. As Merlin rests, he finds himself back in the Corridor of Mirrors. Merlin sees Mandor who urges him to return to Chaos. Then he sees Dara who repeats her message to seek Corwin in the Pit. Then Merlin sees a man he doesn’t recognize. The man tells him that Mandor left a spikard in Amber for Merlin to find and that it had an enchantment that would compel the wearer to take the throne of Chaos and be susceptible to commands from both Dara and Mandor. The man also says that the spikard Merlin wears isn’t that one. He reveals himself to be Delwin (a name we haven’t heard for several books).
Then Rhanda, Merlin’s childhood companion, gives him a clue as to where his father is. Next Merlin meets Bleys who hands him the other spikard, the one enchanted to make him a puppet, telling him not to put it on. He claims to have replaced the one Mandor left with the one that Merlin actually found. He also says that there are nine of them.
Merlin comes to and Ghost Corwin tells him that the Corwin Pattern is under attack. The Logrus is trying to cause an earthquake. Merlin uses the spikard (the thing gets a lot of use, doesn’t it?) to stop it, then grabs Ghost Corwin and heads back the Courts, having figured out where Real Corwin is.
They head to the chapel. Merlin realized that Dara didn’t mean the real Pit, but the representation of the Pit in the Corwin shrine which hides a portal. Merlin forces his way in and Ghost Corwin takes the real Corwin’s place.
They return to Jurt’s room and as Merlin heads to get his father some food, he runs into Julia and they reconcile (or at least start to). Then Merlin confronts both Mandor and Dara, defying them and their attempt to control him. They fight a sorcerous battle, but with Ghostwheel’s help, Merlin gains the upper hand. So the Logrus steps in. But Merlin agrees, in the end, to take the throne. But to rule as he decides, not as anyone else dictates. In the end, Merlin prepares to take the throne as Corwin (complete with Grayswandir) heads back to Amber to update Random.
Commentary: I have very mixed feelings about this novel. There are things about it I love. I love that we finally get to see the Courts of Chaos firsthand and that it seems as twisty and shifting as a pole of Chaos should be. I love that Merlin finally gets to do a lot more than simply reacting to things. I feel like here his choices are laid out in front of him and he chooses (even if that choice is sometimes to ignore his choices). We finally solve the mystery of Corwin, and get some questions answered (the spikard, etc). And this one feels like an integrated novel with a real arc. It helps that Zelazny laid out a lot of the elements previously and he just has to pull them together this time.
However, on the other hand it relies heavily on the (to me at least) troublesome cosmology of the previous books. I still find the sentient Pattern and Logrus to be almost laughable and they continue to take on major roles in this book. Additionally, Zelazny’s women continue to be problematic. Coral remains a non-entity who seems to be just a plot token. Nayda and Dara are the closest we get to fully fleshed women and they get short shrift here (and largely focus their concerns on the men in the story—Luke and Merlin respectively). There’s no escaping that these books are bro-stories. It’s Merlin and Luke and maybe a few other people along the way. And, of course, all the daddy issues that they carry with them (as all children of Amber seem to).
Then there’s the ending. It’s an ending, to be sure. All this manipulation ends up with Merlin deciding to take the throne of Chaos. But it seems like there’s still a lot of balls in the air. How is Merlin going to try to strike a balance between the Logrus and the Pattern? What is going to happen with Corwin’s Pattern? There’s just a lot going on and Zelazny doesn’t have time to resolve everything. Merlin and Julia’s long awaited talk is left out, as is any real reunion between Corwin and Merlin. It seems clear that Zelazny still had things to resolve, things that he would later start to focus on in the Amber short stories.
On to the individual topics...
Cosmology: You’ve already heard about how I hate the sentient Pattern and Logrus. I won’t belabor that point (though I think it would have played a lot better if Zelazny had just used the Unicorn and Serpent instead). I get that Zelazny is trying to tie everything together, but I don’t love the fact that the Pattern and Logrus have been behind everything that’s been going on in both series so far. That the Logrus (through Dara) set up Brand and the Pattern set up Corwin seems to take something away from what they did and their choices (to me at least). I suppose I just like the idea that the Amberites and Chaosians are the “gods” and not subject to the manipulations of anyone other than themselves. YMMV.
Coral: I think this is one of the places where Zelazny really dropped the ball. When Coral was first introduced, she seemed interesting, and had something of a personality. And it seemed that she was being set up as Merlin’s romantic interest. But after she takes the Pattern she becomes nothing more than a token, a plot piece to be moved around and chased after. It just feels unfortunate, and something of a missed opportunity. Zelazny seems not to care about her. In comparison he spends far more time with Nayda.
The Spikard(s): I appreciate what Zelazny did with this. After establishing the game between the Pattern and Logrus and Merlin’s place in the middle, Merlin could hardly go about using either’s abilities with impunity. He needed a middle way and the spikard allowed him to operate at his usual levels, perhaps even above them.
And it certainly gets a lot of use. Merlin uses it for transport, for offense, defense, illusion, information...practically everything, even subterranean geological manipulation. Of course this all opens the door to where the spikard came from, who left it, etc. We learn in this book that Mandor left one for Merlin, one that was enchanted to make him an ideal puppet for the throne but that Bleys swapped that one out for the one that Merlin actually picked up. It’s an answer, but one that just leads to more questions. Bleys appears out of nowhere, really, having not had a big part in Merlin’s books before now. And how did he know about things?
And Delwin seems to be involved, a name that we haven’t heard since the beginning of Merlin’s series (named along with his sister, Sand). Bleys mentions, rather tantalizingly, that there are nine spikards. Is it a coincidence that Jasra mentioned that there are also nine Broken Patterns (or rather 8 now, I guess, since Merlin repaired one)? Also, it’s mentioned that the spikards were powerful artifacts created when the universe was still pretty young.
It seems Zelazny was just starting to get around to starting to tell where these things came from, and their role, but only managed to get the threads out with no hope of wrapping them up. Still, there’s always the short stories...
And that’s Prince of Chaos. The last official book in the Amber series. What did you think? Did it wrap up enough loose ends for you? What did you like? What did you dislike?
Oh, and check back for the next post. Next post, you ask? Wasn’t this the last book? Well, Zelazny wrote several short stories continuing the Amber story before his death. We’ll tackle those next.
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.