We’re back with another post in the Chronicles of Amber Reread, still covering the adventures of Merlin in Knight of Shadows. Though the series was a bit slow to start, this book accelerates things considerably, packing a lot into its pages—including a few things I wasn’t crazy about.
What Happens: We pick up where the last book left off, at the Keep of Four Worlds where Julia was just revealed to be Mask. Jurt left with her at the end of Sign of Chaos, but Merlin and Mandor still remain and Jasra is still locked in sorcerous combat with Sharu Garrul. Mandor and Merlin check to see how the battle is going and see that Jasra has won. She installs Sharu as guardian of the Fount, then invites Merlin and Mandor to a meal.
After everyone freshens up, they sit and eat and drink a rather sumptuous feast. Jasra mentions that Merlin is 30th in line for the throne of Chaos and Mandor confirms this. Merlin is surprised. The conversation turns to Luke, and Jasra mentions that Luke painted, which opens up the conversation to Victor Melman and then Julia. When Julia expressed actual magical ability, Jasra arranged for her to be the one to sacrifice Merlin.
Merlin also realizes that he had long suspected, subconsciously at least, that Julia had abilities. And maybe that he’d been testing her by taking her on the Shadow walk. He starts thinking that he had a bigger hand than he realized in putting her on this path.
As they continue to talk about what happened with Julia, Jasra drops something of a bombshell, for the reader though not for Merlin. Jasra mentions that she walked the Broken Pattern. It makes sense that the Pattern would cast its own Shadows and also that those Shadows would be imperfect. Merlin assumes walking it would be dangerous but Jasra explains that rather than walking the actual Pattern, one walks the interstices, the gaps, to the center. There are three full Patterns (not counting the Primal Pattern that creates them all) so it makes sense that there are nine broken Patterns. And these get more dangerous the further one goes from Amber.
Julia was one of a very few people able to walk the Broken Pattern. Most die in the attempt. It strengthened her innate magical abilities which surpassed those of Victor Melman. Jasra took Julia to the Keep once and Julia later used a blue stone to trace her way back and further empower herself. Then she went back and challenged Victor Melman, her former teacher. She didn’t win, though, and then feared Jasra’s wrath so she faked her death, possibly using a shadow of herself. Later she traced Jasra to the Keep and was able to surprise her, turning her into a coatrack.
Jasra doesn’t know how Julia hooked up with Jurt, but Mandor points out that Jurt and Merlin do look an awful lot alike (odd because Merlin is said to take after Corwin and Jurt is Sawall’s son). Jasra then asks about the Begma folks, Coral and Nayda, and Merlin fills them in, mentioning that Coral’s gone missing. Mandor and Jasra offer to help Merlin try to get her by Trump.
They reach her, but it’s not a normal Trump contact. Jasra believes she is under a spell. Ghostwheel appears and says that she’s being held by “awesome powers.” Merlin gets a glimpse of her, lying on the ground, surrounded by a circle of fire. Merlin asks if Ghost can take him to her, but he can’t. He also mentions that Merlin’s interest has aroused the force holding her and it’s reaching for him. They break the Trump contact, but the power is still coming, so Ghostwheel transports each of them away.
Merlin ends up in a cave (again). He sleeps and when he awakens there’s a figure at the cave entrance. Merlin guesses it’s Dworkin Barimen, founder of Amber. He offers to take Merlin back to search for Coral. He reaches for Merlin but encounters a ward that Merlin set. His flesh melts away revealing a kind of geometry beneath, like a wireframe. Merlin summons the Logrus and Dworkin disappears in a flash.
Then Oberon appears, claiming to be the actual one. Merlin is doubtful, but Oberon mentions that he can name the entire family lineage, including the illegitimates (he claims there are 47!). Oberon says he is a ghost come to “solicit a living champion for Amber against the rising power of the Logrus.”
Merlin isn’t having any of it. He doesn’t want to choose sides. Oberon gets angry and comes for him. As he hits Merlin’s ward, his underlying geometry (lines and swirls and curves) is revealed but it doesn’t stop him. Instead, Merlin pushes the Logrus at Oberon and dives out of the cave mouth. An explosion occurs just as he manages to get away. When he gets up, Oberon is gone and he returns to the cave.
Then Corwin walks up to the cave mouth. He says he’s looking for help. Merlin assumes it’s another fake, but Corwin seems not to know what Merlin’s talking about and claims to be real. Corwin enters the ward and jerks back, feeling it, but he doesn’t melt or flex or reveal any geometric frame. Corwin (or whatever is masquerading as him) uses Grayswandir to break through the ward then parries Merlin’s attacks and knocks him out with the pommel.
When Merlin regains consciousness, everything around him is black, white or gray. There’s no color. He likens it to a photographic negative. The sun is a black circle, the sky gray. Merlin’s skin is ink black. To his left are white mountains. To his right is a black plain. When he speaks there is no sound. Merlin tries his Trumps but nothing happens.
Merlin starts walking noting the complete absence of sound. He tries to shift shadow but nothing happens. So, not having any luck with things based on the Pattern, he tries to summon the Logrus and it hits him like a truck, knocking him out again.
When he awakens this time, something talks to him. It soon identifies itself as Frakir, Merlin’s strangling cord, enhanced by the Logrus to communicate with Merlin. This seems to confirm that the Logrus is indeed sentient. Frakir tells Merlin that he’s in a place between shadows. A place that is mostly inaccessible to both the Pattern and the Logrus. Frakir passes on a message from the Logrus warning Merlin not to summon it again. It also says Merlin is there for a trial (not the courtroom type).
Merlin doesn’t want to play, but Frakir warns that he might not be able to get out otherwise. She directs Merlin to climb a hill and then on to a chapel where he is supposed to stay up all night guarding a set of armor. There are actually two sets waiting for him, one that fits him as he normally is, one that would fit him if he shape-shifted into a Chaos form. Rather than choose, Merlin moves the pieces all together and decides to guard them all.
Merlin doesn’t stay awake, though, since he has Frakir with him. He sleeps and when he wakes up he sees a strangled dwarf on the ground. Frakir mentions there’s food and water for him but it’s supposed to wait until morning. Merlin ignores this but before he can eat and drink, he is disturbed by the appearance of both the Unicorn and a Serpent. They are there to make sure Merlin plays by the rules. He is adamant that he won’t choose. They claim he will and voice their displeasure at his attitude, but then they disappear.
Merlin and Frakir chat some more and Merlin offers to leave Frakir behind when he leaves so she can retain her new state. Frakir tells Merlin that the Corwin who appeared at the cave wasn’t like the strange Oberon and Dworkin—he was human. She also says that the geometry beneath Oberon and Dworkin was part of the Pattern.
When morning arrives, Merlin is allowed to eat and drink, then he must choose one of three doors. One represents Order, one Chaos and the third is unknown. Apparently the door will only open if Merlin bears the right armor. Merlin finds two open to him and chooses the one with better light. As he’s moving he sees the dwarf who seemed to be dead get up and laugh. Frakir mentions that he’s walking the path of Chaos. The dwarf had planted a Chaos dagger on him.
Merlin ends up on a vast colorless plain. Then pillars start appearing. Merlin’s trail leads through some and he comes upon an altar. Bound upon it is a familiar woman with white hair and black skin and a man stands over her, half black, half white, holding a blade. Merlin rushes toward the man but he stabs the woman and red blood comes out before they are all consumed by a whirlwind. Frakir soon confirms the sight and adds that the lady was Deirdre. Also that the beings were like Oberon and Dworkin from the cave. The tableau repeats itself with the same results.
Then a black and white and gray man appears as well. He shadows Merlin for a while before Merlin realizes that it’s Brand. Or at least a construct version of him. Brand calls himself a Pattern-ghost and offers to explain what that is for a little of Merlin’s blood. Merlin obliges but his Chaos blood is volatile and it Brand is transformed into a vortex.
Merlin continues on and things, real things, start to appear in that land, color, too. A car pulled from his memory, a statue of Oberon. Frakir confirms that they seem real. Then Merlin meets Deirdre wearing a beret and swearing in French. She mistakes Merlin for Corwin at first. She explains that she’s a Pattern-ghost, a record of the Deirdre who walked the Pattern. It can call back a copy of anyone who has walked it but the copy dates from that time only. She, too, tries to drink from Merlin saying that the blood of Amber has power over the Pattern. But she, too, becomes a vortex as a result. But she urges Merlin to go right.
Frakir conjectures that even though the Pattern can’t enter that place, it can clearly send agents. It stands to reason that the Logrus can do the same. This is proved shortly afterward when Merlin encounters Jurt, only a Logrus-ghost version. Merlin explains to Jurt what’s going on, what he is, and the he feeds Jurt some of his blood. This time it works the way it’s supposed to and Jurt seems to become more real.
They are disturbed, though, by the Pattern-ghost of Caine. Before he can attack, Merlin throws his Chaos dagger at Caine and it destroys him. Merlin surmises that Caine was sent to prevent Jurt from gaining autonomy which might strengthen the Logrus. Jurt was originally supposed to fight Merlin but he’s starting to have second thoughts so the two brother join forces. Soon they encounter Duke Borel, the Chaos noble that Corwin killed back in The Courts of Chaos. He challenges Merlin who draws his sword to find out that he’s wielding Grayswandir, the sword that killed the real Borel. With the blade helping him, Merlin manages to dispatch the Logrus-ghost Borel.
Merlin and Jurt continue on in the space between the shadows but Merlin starts to see things like a red Chevy, bits of shadows. Jurt guesses that it might be the Pattern trying to lure Merlin into one of them. The next time one appears, it’s a window into Random and Vialle’s room back in Amber. Merlin goes through and is guided to the hiding place of the Jewel of Judgment which he removes and returns back to the land between shadows.
Where Borel is back and waiting for him. He says that if he is able to get the Jewel of Judgment and deliver it to the Logrus, he can become a real boy. Before they can fight, however, Benedict appears, or rather a Pattern-ghost of Benedict, and he takes on Borel urging Merlin onwards.
Jurt mentions that Merlin appears to have allied with the Pattern and Merlin replies that Jurt has, too. Then they end up in a place that looks very much like where the Pattern is housed in Amber. But it’s not Amber’s Pattern, it’s a broken one. And Coral is unconscious (or dead) at its center in a circle of fire. The Jewel seems to indicate to Merlin that he must walk the Broken Pattern, repairing it with the use of the Jewel. Normally he wouldn’t oblige, but with Coral at the center he must. Before he does, though, the Pattern starts to derez Jurt until Merlin stops it. He makes Jurt’s continued existence a condition of his repairing the Pattern. The Pattern seems to agree.
Merlin then walks the Pattern, filling in the broken pieces by using the Jewel. Jurt follows him, as able to traverse the Pattern as Merlin is. Before he finishes, though, another Logrus-ghost appears and this time it’s Merlin himself. Or rather Merlin “with a lobotomy and orders to kill,” as he puts it. Merlin faces himself, trying to call on sword techniques he learned after he walked the Logrus. But before he can truly defeat himself, Logrus-Jurt sacrifices himself to take Logrus-Merlin out.
What follows is perhaps the creepiest thing in the whole series. Merlin makes it to the center of the Pattern and Coral and tries to rouse her but she appears to be enchanted. He even tries kissing her, the “storybook remedy” but that doesn’t work. He commands the Pattern to take them both to Amber, but it doesn’t. Instead it sends him a message through the Jewel—it wants him to have sex with Coral in the center of the Pattern.
Now there was certainly an attraction between Merlin and Coral, but Merlin balks, not wanting to be manipulated. He tries to walk the Pattern backwards but the fire returns and he’s forced to remain in the center of the Pattern. So…he gives in, except that Coral is still pretty much asleep. He calls her “more drowsy than comatose” and in that state it “made it seem somewhat less like necrophilia” but they still have sex while she’s at least partly asleep. Her eyes don’t fully open until after they’re done. And she doesn’t even react very much. Utterly creepy and rapey.
In the end, the Pattern seems to glow even brighter, apparently supercharged by the action at its center and then Coral and Merlin are sent first to the Pattern in Amber and then to his bedroom. He explains to Coral what happened with Nayda (how she died and is now the ty’iga). Luckily for Coral, she never really liked her sister growing up and prefers the new version. Then they part with a promise from Merlin that they’ll see each other again. Otherwise Coral doesn’t react much to the Pattern sex.
When she’s gone, Merlin summons Ghost, has his creation spirit him down to the Pattern in Amber where Merlin sees a dark-haired woman at its center. He also realizes that Frakir has lost her voice. The glow of the Pattern is indeed brighter and Merlin mouths off a bit to the Pattern before he’s sent back to his room. There he questions Ghostwheel about Mandor and Jasra (still apparently safe) and Luke (unknown).
Merlin wants to return the Jewel so he asks Ghostwheel what’s going on in the royal quarters. Ghost says that Vialle is in and there’s a dwarf knocking on people’s doors. Before Merlin can go to Vialle, he discovers the dwarf who turns out to be Dworkin, patriarch of the whole Amber clan. Merlin invites him in and Dworkin asks for the full story of the repair of the Broken Pattern and, to aid in things, he summons up coffee. Merlin is about to give Dworkin the Jewel but Dworkin stops him saying that that would probably kill him.
We then pick up with Merlin back in the blue crystal cave and for a moment he thinks that he never left, but he only sought its refuge because it was a faster time stream than Amber and because he would be protected from both Trumps and the interference (maybe) of the Pattern and Logrus. Then Merlin attunes himself to the Jewel of Judgment. This apparently inscribes him with a higher-order Pattern, something Dworkin had urged him to do.
Ghostwheel transports Merlin back to Amber again and he sets about trying to get the Jewel back to its hiding spot. Sneaking through the palace he catches sight of Random and Martin bonding over music, then stops in at Corwin’s rooms. Merlin hears soft voices in the bedroom and not wanting to intrude, he hangs up Grayswandir and leaves.
Merlin asks Ghostwheel to put the Jewel back but Ghostwheel is afraid to try it. But when Merlin removes the Jewel, nothing comes to attack him. He tries to Trump through to Luke but gets audio only. Luke is busy, about to lead a raid. But not on Amber. Just then Merlin hears footsteps, knocking and someone entering a room nearby. He thinks the rooms are empty so he goes to investigate and finds Coral in his room.
Coral seems to have been trying to free Nayda, possessed by the ty’iga. As they’re talking, Ghostwheel brings in Mandor. Mandor is alarmed by the fact that Merlin has the Jewel, and Nayda is excited by it. She calls out to the Logrus which apparently frees her and she grabs the Jewel and runs off into the hallway.
Merlin and the others pursue, of course, and Nayda reveals that it was Merlin’s mother, Dara, who bound her to protect Merlin. However, stealing the Jewel apparently takes precedence and frees her from the binding. The Logrus appears, and is about to spirit Nayda away until Mandor freezes her in the hallway. Then the Pattern appears and they face off in the hallway. Then they begin to speak. The Logrus calls the Jewel “the Eye of Chaos,” ripped from the Serpent by the Unicorn. It demands it back. The Pattern refuses. Dworkin also Trump messages Merlin to tell him not to let the Logrus get the Jewel. Oh, and Ghostwheel extends himself around Nayda.
The Logrus complains that Merlin tipped the balance against him (by repairing the Broken Pattern and empowering it with sex) but it’s also mentioned that the balance was accidentally tipped the other way by Corwin (I assume by creating a new Pattern). Dworkin tells Merlin that if he can get the Jewel he can keep it safe. Ghostwheel then takes Nayda away and the Pattern and Logrus meet.
Merlin and Mandor shield themselves but a huge destructive force is unleashed and Merlin falls. Dworkin has to save him, essentially Trumping Merlin into his room. Dworkin confirms Merlin’s suspicion that the people of Amber and Chaos mean nothing to the Pattern and Logrus and their struggle is all that matters to them.
Dworkin shows Merlin the others—Mandor and Coral who are facing off against Random and Martin. Coral is injured, though, so Random offers to help her. Mandor takes her to Vialle. Dworkin takes Merlin through a mirror into Random’s room where Vialle is looking over Coral who has damage to her right eye. Merlin Trumps to Ghostwheel asking for the Jewel back and Ghost mentions that he attuned himself to the Jewel as well. Ghostwheel returns it and Merlin gives it to Dworkin. Ghostwheel says that he dropped Nayda at the blue crystal cave and left her there to wander. She’s free of Dara’s geas and of the Logrus, but she’s stuck in Nayda’s body.
Then Random talks to Merlin about the Kashfa-Begma situation. If you recall, Random was planning to put his man on the throne of Kashfa, but the morning of the coronation, there was a coup led by Luke and backed by Dalt’s troops. Luke is about to be crowned Rinaldo I, King of Kashfa. Random decides not to do anything about it, but wants Merlin to attend the coronation and speak to Luke about taking care of Arkans, Random’s man.
As Merlin tries to get back to his room through the ruin of the palace, he accidentally lands in the Corridor of Mirrors, a corridor that shifts randomly through the palace. Merlin isn’t too interested in exploring it, but unseen hands push and tug at him until he’s before a certain mirror which transports him to a scene outdoors. He makes his way to a ruined church where a pentagram is drawn with a figure at each of the star’s points. They are summoning Merlin which seems to work as he falls into the pentagram at their feet. Two of the figures reveal themselves as Julia and Coral. They hold forks and knives in their hands. Julia sinks her knife into Merlin’s thigh and Coral stabs her fork into his shoulder. They eat what’s on their utensils until Dara reveals herself and uses her cloak to melt them down into nothing. Then Jurt appears and attacks Merlin in wolf form until Corwin appears to knock him into a wall which collapses on him. Dara then lunges for Merlin but Corwin pulls Merlin away and his cloak melts her away to nothing. Corwin claims to have been the one who met Merlin in the place between shadows. Then another wall collapses and Corwin pushes Merlin away, but something strikes his head. Merlin wakes up in the Corridor of Mirrors.
Merlin finds actual cuts on his body and holds in his hand a rectangular piece of stone. As he returns to his room, he finds a wall blown open into Brand’s rooms and the piece of stone fits perfectly into the arch between the two rooms. Merlin changes into an outfit based on his old Berkeley colors. Then he wanders into Brand’s room, so helpfully revealed by the collapse of the wall. He finds one of Brand’s old hats that fits him and takes it. He also finds Brand’s sword, gold to Grayswandir’s silver, and also bearing a trace of the Pattern upon it. Merlin takes it, thinking to give it to Luke as a coronation present.
Then Merlin stops by Corwin’s room and finds Grayswandir gone. He returns to Brand’s room and finds a ring. It has extensions that he guesses lead off into shadow, each connecting to some power source for a spell. Merlin puts it on and feels its power, and realizes that it’s an alternative to Pattern or Logrus power. Frakir throbs at his wearing it, and indeed tries to remove it, but Merlin won’t let her. He also realizes he wants to keep the ring. When Frakir persists, he removes her and ties her to the bedpost in Brand’s room.
As he returns to his own room, Merlin hears Random calling for him. He goes to Random’s room where Vialle almost can’t tell it’s him (she’s blind, remember). Mandor is still there, but Dworkin and Coral aren’t. Apparently the old man took Coral somewhere and took the Jewel as well, leaving Random only with the chain. Merlin is able to use the power of the ring to see where Dworkin and Coral went, displaying the image on a mirror for the others. Random recognizes it as Kashfa. Since Merlin is about to visit there, Random asks him to find out what’s going on.
Merlin reopens the portal Dworkin used and goes through. He explores a bit then Trump messages Luke and Luke asks Merlin to go to the Temple of the Unicorn and Trump him through, which Merlin does. Only a muffled woman who seems to be praying shares the church with them. Merlin gives Luke Brand’s sword which Luke identifies as “Werewindle, the Daysword brother to the Nightblade, Grayswandir.”
Luke also mentions that he’s been manipulated by his mother. He never wanted to be king in Kashfa. But it can’t be Jasra because the people hate her. Luke thinks he may have to go through with the whole thing. Then Jurt appears, ready to kill Merlin. He senses Werewindle, though, and seems interested in it. He teleports behind Luke and knocks him out, but before he can grab the blade, Merlin uses the power of the ring against him.
The two brothers seem evenly matched, Jurt with the power of the Fount in him, Merlin with the ring. Merlin does a good job of keeping Jurt on the ropes, but he manages to grab Werewindle and takes it to the woman’s throat, who is revealed to be Coral wearing an eyepatch. Merlin can’t take Jurt out before he cuts her throat. Luke recovers then and tells Jurt to release his wife. It seems it’s a Mexican standoff but then Jurt screams, moving the sword away from Coral. He begins to jerk wildly. She turns her face to him and lifts her patch and a red light plays over Jurt, causing him to curl into a fetal position and shake. Then he’s gone, Trumped away, by Julia. Merlin is worried, though. Jurt has grown more powerful. He says, “this was the first time we’d fought that he hadn’t left a piece of himself behind, had even taken something away with him. Something deadly.” Merlin had delivered Werewindle to him.
As Merlin turns back to Coral he sees that the Jewel of Judgment is now installed in her eye socket, beneath the patch. “Wife?” he asks. And Coral says, “Well, sort of…yes.” And that’s the end.
Cosmology: There’s a lot of new stuff added in this one. Let’s take it one by one:
As mentioned, I think the idea of the broken Patterns makes sense, especially as shadow reflections tend to be imperfect, and are more so the further one gets from Amber. That these could be used for power still makes sense because the Pattern is a potent object. Merlin “fixing” the broken Patterns makes sense, too, in that this would strengthen the Pattern and extend its reach in some ways. But of course that leads into…
Sentient Pattern/Sentient Logrus
This always bothered me, to be honest. I love the idea of the Pattern, and I love the idea of the Logrus, but that they have some kind of sentience behind them seems a bit much. I prefer them as abstracts, absolutes. If the Amberites are like gods, then Chaos and Order should be the poles through which they act, not further gods to govern them. I particularly don’t like the idea of them talking or having personalities, but maybe that’s just me.
Pattern-ghosts and Logrus-ghosts
This idea doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the others. It makes sense to me that as much as the Pattern is imprinted upon those who walk it, that something of them is recorded by the Pattern. Of course the ghost part only works if there is a consciousness directing their creation and tasking them with duties. If I were running an Amber RPG game I would let advanced practitioners of the Pattern be able to summon Pattern ghosts, for example. A bunch of them are jammed into this book, though. I think a couple could have been trimmed.
The Serpent and the Unicorn
Zelazny doesn’t get too into this, but it seems that just as the Unicorn is the patron animal of Amber (and possibly the mother of Oberon), the Serpent is the patron animal of Chaos. And are we to believe that the Jewel of Judgment was literally the eye of the Serpent? Or is this some kind of allegorical thing? It does make for an interesting mythology. Typically Order arises out of Chaos. So the Serpent bearing the Jewel makes some sense. It also helps set up the animosity between the two powers from the beginning. But if the Pattern came from the Jewel, where did the Logrus come from?
Corwin: There are more indications in this book that Corwin may indeed be around. Zelazny doesn’t come out and confirm it, but it’s possible that it really was Corwin that knocked Merlin out at the cave. Also Grayswandir seems to appear and disappear at key moments, along with several silver roses. But there’s enough ambiguity that it’s ultimately up to the reader. Merlin certainly isn’t sure what’s happening. As much as I love Corwin, I prefer to leave the books entirely to Merlin, though I do feel that Corwin is a bit of a dick for not trying to spend more time with his son.
The Succession: Zelazny hasn’t made too big a deal out of this, but in the last book it was mentioned that people are fighting over the succession back in Chaos. Merlin learned he was adopted by Sawall placing him higher than he thought. In this book we discover that he’s 30th from the throne. Still not very close, but not that far either. So far this has only played a part potentially in Jurt’s continued attempts to kill Merlin, but it keeps popping up.
Sex in the Pattern: To be honest, I didn’t remember this at all before starting this reread. But when I came across it this time, it really bothered me. Zelazny doesn’t always handle female characters well in these books, and even less, it seems, when it comes to sex. Previously we’ve had possessed women not seeming to mind when they were possessed, even with the implication of sex hanging in the air. In this book, we get sleep sex. I’ve reread the passage several times and it’s not clear to me if Coral is truly asleep or not. I think Zelazny is trying to say that she was willing and it was consensual, but the depiction here seems problematic. I also wonder why Merlin didn’t try one of his Trumps to get Coral out that way.
That’s Knight of Shadows. Unlike some of the earlier books in Merlin’s series, this one packs an awful lot into it. There are lots of plot threads to follow and resolve. Can Zelazny do it? Will the series be resolved to your satisfaction or mine? Tune back in next time when we cover the last of the Merlin books, Prince of Chaos. And let me know what you thought of this book (and its many parts) in the comments.
Rajan Khanna is a writer, narrator, and blogger and Zelazny enthusiast. He writes regular science fiction and fantasy columns for LitReactor. You can follow him on his website, and he tweets @rajanyk.