Audiobook Review: The Chronicles of Amber Books 1-5: The Corwin Cycle

19 08 2012

 

It was about 10 years ago when I first started to become a more significant fantasy fan. Before that time, most of my Fantasy reads were either books I grew up with like The Hobbit and Chronicles of Narnia, or through cross genre series like Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. After Completing the Final book of that series, I was hungry for more Epic Fantasy series. I read The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, and George R. R. Martin’s  A Song of Ice and Fire. Then, looking for my next Fantasy fix, I found a book called, The Great Book of Amber. It was the omnibus version of Zelazny’s The Chronicles of Amber. Unlike the original fans of the series, I got to sit gown with this clunker and read it like it was one big book.

From the first moment of Nine Princes of Amber, where we find a strange man with no memories breaking out of medical facility, I was fully engaged. Corwin was such a brilliant character, unreliable and mysterious, full of flaws but compelling. He made a great hero for this tale. As we begin to meet Corwin’s strange family and get pulled into the lands of shadow and Amber, you literally had no idea what may happen next. The concept of the Shadow worlds is brilliant. You can call it multiple universes, but that doesn’t even really capture complexity and beauty of what Zelazny set up. All worlds are the Shadows of Amber, the true world, and in Shadow, anything you can imagine existing exists. In order for those who have the ability to travel through the shadows, they move in an almost Imagination Osmosis, where they imagine aspects of worlds, trying to bring them more and more into synch with where they are trying to go. As complex as this system could get, Zelazny does it simply. He doesn’t bother trying to explain the how’s and whys of the process, he just has his characters do it. It’s simple and effective.

In essence, The Corwin Cycle is an elaborate Game of Thrones scenario with one incredibly complex family struggling for control over the one true world. What makes Corwin’s place in the struggle even more complex is that he knows he’s entitled to his shot at the throne, but his fractured memories never allows him the ability to fully comprehend all the intricacies of the struggles. He has nothing to go on when deciding who he should trust other that his instincts when he thinks about his individual siblings. Even when his overall memories are restored, he is missing key bits of information from around the time of the accident that preceded the start if the series. This makes him the most unreliable character to both the readers and to himself.

Zelazny does so much with this tale, yet, does it in an accessible style that opens it up to both hardcore and casual fantasy fans. Reliving this tale in audio was definitely a good decision. There were so many wonderful moments that truly comes alive in this tale.

Narration:

Alessandro Juliani gives a wonderful performance. Early on, I think the pacing was a bit off, and maybe a bit rushed, but he got control of it pretty quickly and it was impeccable after that moment. His characterizations were well done. He did have a tendency to Anglicize many of the peripheral characters, unless they were specifically given ethnicity. This wasn’t entirely a problem but it may have been nice to see a bit more diversity in his characterizations. One thing he did well with his characters was transform them as the story dictates. I struggled with his voicing of Random at first, finding it a bit cartoonish and infantile. Yet, he rounded it out with more depth as the story progressed, following the development of the character. This come from a true understanding of the text and I applaud Juliani for it. The funny thing was, I could actually see Juliani, or a buffed up version of him, as Corwin, and that helped the overall feel of the novel. I think Audible made excellent choices in their narrators for this series, and once I can scrounge up the credits I am looking forward to Wil Wheaton’s narration of the Merlin Cycle.

 

Nine Princes of Amber by Roger Zelazny (Chronicles of Amber, Book 1)

Read by Alessandro Juliani

Audible Frontiers

Length: 5 Hours 31 Min

Grade: A

Nine Princess of Amber is the opening of the series and quickly sets the mood. One of the benefits of starting this series with Corwin not knowing who he is, or anything about Amber or the shadow is that we get to experience it with him. Nine Princes of Amber may be the most visually stunning, epic  edition of the series. Corwin’s battle into Amber up the Kolvir mountain is probably the moment of the series that has forever been engraved into my brain. Of all the novels, it’s focus is more on the external action than the intricate interaction between siblings, and because of this, it is probably the moment of purest fun.

The Guns of Avalon by Roger Zelazny (Chronicles of Amber, Book 2)

Read by Alessandro Juliani

Audible Frontiers

Length: 6 Hrs 29 Min

Grade: A

The Guns of Avalon is probably my favorite book of the series because of one fact, it takes place almost entirely in Shadow. In Guns of Avalon Corwin returns to a version of a land he once ruled over in order to find a valuable weapon that will help him win the Throne. Along the way, he meets versions of old friends and enemies and discovers a dark force that may threaten Amber, the one true world. Even worst, this new darkness wreaking havoc in the shadow may very well have been caused by Corwin himself.

The Sign of the Unicorn by Roger Zelazny (Chronicles of Amber, Book 3)

Read by Alessandro Juliani

Audible Frontiers

Length: 5 Hrs 35 Min

Grade: A-

Sign of the Unicorn transitions the series from being mostly about the battle for the Throne of Amber to the threat of The Court of Chaos. The majority of this novel takes place within the walls of Amber and concentrates on the just exactly how Corwin lost him memory and what the true nature of Chaos is. A lot of the conspiracy and machinations of his siblings is brought to light, and there is a huge focus on discovering who is working with Chaos and committing other heinous acts of betrayal. While it’s full of huge reveals, and complicated plotting, it is the slowest, most introspective novel of the series.

The Hand of Oberon by Roger Zelazny (Chronicles of Amber, Book 4)

Read by Alessandro Juliani

Audible Frontiers

Length: 5 Hrs 20 Min

Grade: A-

After the ending of Sign of the Unicorn, and its game changing cliffhanger, Corwin must discover the cause of the black road that is giving Chaos access to Amber. In order to do this, Corwin must return to our Earth, where he spent centuries in exile, unaware of who he was, to retrieve a powerful tool he had been forced to leave behind earlier. The Hand of Oberon answers almost all of the big questions of the series, and reveals the true nemesis. Corwin also learns a shocking secret about one of his closest friends and advisors that leads to the best implemented twist of the series.

The Courts of Chaos by Roger Zelazny (Chronicles of Amber, Book 5)

Read by Alessandro Juliani

Audible Frontiers

Length: 4 Hrs 44 Min

Grade: A-

In Courts of Chaos, Corwin discovers how to save Amber against the encroachment of Chaos. The solution is practically suicidal and before Corwin realizes, another has stripped him of the opportunity, taking it upon themselves. Now, Corwin must travel from Amber to The Courts of Chaos, following the Black Road through Shadow where he encounters strange creatures, fulfills prophecies and truly discovers what it will take to prevent the destruction of all existence. While this trip seems a bit of a gimmick to fill out the space between the brilliant beginning and conclusion of the novel, it’s dream like quality gives it a unique place within the series and takes us back into the heart of Shadow. The series ends with hope in the face of despair.

 

In Conclusion:

The Corwin Cycle of the Chronicles of Amber remain one of my favorite fantasy series of all time. Rich in characters and full of adventure, it is unlike what many expect out of epic fantasy today. The Worlds Zelazny has created are as vast as our imagination, yet written so tremendously accessibly that even readers who struggle with the often overused verbosity of modern Fantasy will be able to enjoy this work. Zelazny uses his precise intricate prose only to accentuate his tale making him one of my favorite all time storytellers.  

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4 responses

21 08 2012
Dave

Thanks for writing this up, Bob. Really excited to check these out (although yeah – gotta save up 10 credits now)!

25 08 2012
DevourerofBooks (@DevourerofBooks)

I like the idea of combining fantasy with memory loss!

3 12 2012
russell1200

The original amber series was available in my youth, and I read them. But when the Merlin cycle came out, I just couldn’t invest the emotional energy to re-emerse myself.

The general theme of differing worlds within a multiverse was a rather popular concept in the day, with lots of fawning over Joseph Cambell heroic archetypes thrown in as well.

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