Thursday, April 21, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Blood of Amber

For today's Roger Zelazny book review, I'm covering the second book in the Merlin Chronicles, Blood of Amber.

I alluded to what I thought to be some of the problems with the series in earlier reviews, but I think they're less in evidence here. Zelazny really didn't seem to have any idea where a Merlin series should go, and the first book just kind of meanders about. He didn't seem to know what to write in Trumps, but now he's actually got something to work with and build upon, it's actually a pretty engaging story.

I actually read this one before Trumps of Doom. I can't remember if it was from a school library or a used book store (and it seems to be the one Zelazny paperback that's always in stock at the used book store), but I know it was the only book they had in stock and it was my introduction to the Merlin books. It opens with Reflections in a Crystal Cave, a lengthy recap of the earlier book, so I was actually pretty well informed about what had led up to this.

Flora gets good characterization. It introduces Dalt, one of my favorites from the new series.

It's got some cool lines:

I twisted my hands deeper into the Logrus until I wore the  limbs I desired as fine-fingered  gauntlets, stronger than metals, more sensitive than tongues in the places of their power

Merlin meets a hermit named Dave, who lives in a cave and about whom many dirty limericks have been written.

Scrof, the Dweller on the Threshold was really pretty cool, but I've already reproduced the section I like with him in the combined Merlin review, so I won't do so here.

It was nice to get a street level view of Amber with Merlin's visit to Bloody Bill's. I even like the running joke that was continued throughout the series.

"Uh, Bloody Bill's."

"Thanks. I'll say hi to Bill for you."

 He shook his head. "Can't. It was  renamed  after  the  manner  of  his demise. His cousin Andy runs it now."

"Oh. What was it called before?"

"Bloody Sam's," he said.

(Also, how awesome is it that Grimjack is a fan of the place?)

We get some flashbacks to Merlin's childhood in the Courts, which serves to flesh him out a bit. It really picks up in the middle when Luke returns, and though it never reaches the heights of the the Corwin books, I found myself enjoying it, sometimes even when Merlin was around. The cover art is beautiful, the duel at the Keep of the Four Worlds is pretty awesome too. It works as a self-contained novel, with a little bit of foreshadowing in the beginning tying into the reveal at the end.

I actually think it's pretty okay. I consider it the best of the Merlin series. How faint that praise is, depends, I suppose on your own opinion of the Merlin books.


  1. After finishing Blood of Amber, I have to wonder if Trumps of Doom wasn't just some sort of fluke. Blood of Amber was great, and it felt more like Zelazny's style from the Corwin books; whereas Trumps of Doom felt like it had been written by a teenage Zelazny, who was just starting to get things under control and hadn't quite polished his writing yet. (For an example, see the terrible line about the Patternfall treaty and Swayvil, King of Chaos.)

    Anyway, if Zelazny is able to continue with this level of quality in Sign of Chaos (I really can't remember if he does, since it's been so long), things are looking up.

    (And, side-note: I didn't find Merlin annoying in this book. At all!)

    1. Blood of Amber is, by far, my favorite of the Merlin books.