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The First Chronicles of Amber (Appendix N Quick Look)

Updated: Jan 2

A short dive into Roger Zelzany's Amber novels (Appendix N Quick Look).

Chronicles of Amber book
Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber

The First Chronicles of Amber is an omnibus of the first five books of Amber by Roger Zelazny. They include Nine Princes in Amber (1970), The Guns of Avalon (1972), Signs of the Unicorn (1975), Hand of Oberon (1976), and The Courts of Chaos (1978). These books concern the exploits of the (mostly) amoral royal family of the world of Amber, all of whom possess some form of superhuman abilities (e.g., strength, intellect, speed, regeneration, and so forth). They reside in Castle Amber, which is located on a demi-plane somewhere in the multiverse. All of the family members also possess the ability to travel to parallel worlds, including our own Earth, all of which are merely shadows of Amber. The dysfunctional family members spend their time plotting and scheming against one another in hopes of becoming Amber’s sole ruler. The main protagonist of these books, Corwin, has been unknowingly exiled to (our own) Earth. He sets out to piece together who did this to him and why. (Astute readers will notice that the opening chapters to Nine Princes in Amber are nearly identical to those in Philip Jose Farmer’s, The Maker of Universes.)

Zelazny’s Amber stories are pure fantasy. They might have a medieval veneer, with mythological creatures, swords, and a form of quasi-magic, but they also include elements of our modern world, like cars, guns, and cigarettes (lots of cigarettes). They have the energy of swords & sorcery books, but few of their trappings. The greatest strengths of the Amber books are the quality of the characters and the immediacy of the writing. The family members are fully realized individuals who pop off the pages. Zelazny’s quick moving, almost conversational, prose propels the story forward, never lingering overlong on a description or scene. A great example of this urgency is the scene where Corwin encounters his brother, Julian, in the Forest of Arden.

Surprisingly, the Amber books have little direct influence on Dungeons & Dragons. Few specific game features (i.e., monsters, classes, spells, etc.) originate from this series. The Trumps may have influenced the Deck of Many Things. The shadow walk and shadow monsters spells probably have their origin here. These books, and most of Zelazny’s other works, brim with ideas and imagination. Furthermore, he knows how to tell stories full of action and intrigue, essential elements when making a D&D adventure.

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