Trumps of Doom, taken alone, is not as atrociously bad as my endless bitching about Merlin would suggest. I'm even fond of the beginning.
It is a pain in the ass waiting around for someone to try to kill you. But it was April 30, and of course it would happen as it always did. It had taken me a while to catch on, but now I at least knew when it was coming. In the past, I'd bin too busy to do anything about it. But my job was finished now. I'd only stayed around for this. I felt that I really ought to clear the matter up before I departed.I got out of bed, visited the bathroom,showered, brushed my teeth, et cetera. I'd grown a beard again, so I didn't have to shave. I was not jangling with strange apprehensions, as I had been on that April 30 three years ago when I'd awakened with a headache and a premonition, thrown open the windows, and gone to the kitchen to discover all of the gas burners turned on and flameless. No. It wasn't even like the April 30 two years ago in the other apartment when I awoke before dawn to a faint smell of smoke to learn that the place was on fire. Still, I stayed out of direct line of the light fixtures in case the bulbs were filled with something flammable, and I flipped all of the switches rather than pushing them. Nothing untoward followed these actions.
Also, I happen to like the art on the paperback editions.
|Jesus, what the fuck is that?|
Edit: Per Chris Kovac's suggestion, I edited in the image from which the Trumps of Doom hardcover had been copied:
|Any resemblance is surely purely coincidental|
I forget where I read a quote that went something like "A Musician has a lifetime to produce the first album and six months to produce the second." The impression that I get from the Collected Stories is that Zelazny was offered a large advance to write a second Amber series, and it's not something he would have initiated at the point in time if not for the offer.
And I can't fault him for that. I think it was Jane Lindskold who wrote that Zelazny took pride in being able to write up a story on spec. Also Neil Gaiman has some choice words about fans and their entitlement issues.
So, Trumps of Doom. What do I think? The elements that would come to annoy me were all mostly already present, Ghostwheel, Merlin's smug stupidity (particularly with the Sphinx), everyone being obsessed with Merlin. (That last one drives me crazy: His boss wants him back! As soon as he gets back to Amber, the Elders are falling over each other to be his buddy!)
Everything in the Corwin books fits together, but some things just seem poorly thought out, uncharacteristically so for such a normally fastidious author. Like Merlin going to college. Sure, there are benefits to a higher education, and it would make sense if he eventually went to college, but doing it in his late teens or early 20s just seems like asking for trouble. Bill Roth observes "back when you came you weren't even certain how most people here behaved", so a period of adjustment would have been logical.
Or take this:
"He's Master of the Logrus. He's an uncle of mine, too. He felt that the Pattern of Amber and the Logrus of Chaos were incompatible, that I could not bear the images of both within me. Random, Fiona, and Gerard had taken me down to show me the Pattern. I got in touch with Suhuy then and gave him a look at it. He said that they seemed antithetical, and that I would either be destroyed by the attempt or the Pattern would drive the image of the Logrus from me, probably the former. But Fiona said that the Pattern should be able to encompass anything, even the Logrus, and from what she understood of the Logrus it should be able to work its way around anything, even the Pattern. So they left it up to me, and I knew that I had to walk it. So I did. I made it, and I still bear the Logrus as well as the Pattern. Suhuy acknowledged that Fi had been right, and he speculated that it had to do with my mixed parentage. She disagreed, though-"
"Now you come along with a story that makes me believe Pandora's box has been opened again. Why couldn't you just want a divorce like any sensible young man? Or a will written or a trust set up? A partnership agreement? Something like that? No, this sounds more like one of Carl's problems. Even the other stuff I've done for Amber seems pretty sedate by comparison."
"Other stuff ? You mean the Concord-the time Random sent Fiona with a copy of the Patternfall Treaty with Swayvil, King of Chaos, for her to translate and you to look at for loopholes?"
Bill Roth comes across as thorough and reasonably bright in all his appearances. We're told how smart Merlin is, but Bill Roth is running circles around him. Smart doesn't mean sensible, of course, and he might be a brilliant engineer and clueless in other arenas, but there's a large gap between Merlin as described and Merlin as shown.
Also, Ghostwheel. I like the concept, but, well, like so much in the series, I just didn't enjoy the execution.
"Ghost, within five thousand Shadow veils, this location-how many Shadow-storms are currently in existence?"
The words camne as if spoken within the hoop: "Seventeen."
"I gave it my voice," I told him. "Ghost, give us some pictures of the biggest one."
Of course you did. You're your own biggest fan! I bet Merlin was sockpuppeting support for himself on Usenet message boards back in the 90s.
Is it all bad? No. It's Roger Zelazny after all. Fiona, probably my favorite among the sisters, gets substantial development and shows herself as a force to be reckoned with. Luke is introduced, and I think he's one of Zelazny's finest characters.
It has some memorable exchanges:
"Who are you?" I snarled.
"Jasra," she spat back, "dead man!"
She opened her mouth wide and her head fell forward. I felt the moist touch of her lips upon the back of my left forearm, which still held her own right wrist against the chair's arm. Seconds later I felt an excruciating pain there. It was not a bite, but rather felt as if a fiery nail had been driven into my flesh.
Also one of my favorites:
People who work in slaughterhouses know that there is a spot on an animal's forehead to be found by drawing an imaginary line from the right ear to the left eye and another from the left ear to the right eye. They aim the killing blow , an inch or two above the junction of this X. My uncle taught me that. He didn't work in a slaughterhouse, though. He just knew how to kill things.
As a side note, I'll probably make a post about the Amber Diceless RPG. Those who play the RPG have a different conception of the novels than those who have only read the books. Among fans of the RPG, it's practically an article of faith that Caine faked his death a second time.
The ending is nice too.
I count the days by the lightening and darkening of the blue crystal walls. It has been over a month since my imprisonment, though I do not know how slowly or rapidly time flows here in relation to other shadows. I have paced every hall and chamber of this great cave, but I have found no way out. My Trumps do not work here, not even the Trumps of Doom. My magic is useless to me, limited as it is by walls the color of Luke's ring. I begin to feel that I might enjoy even the escape of temporary insanity, but my reason refuses to surrender to it, there being too many puzzles to trouble me: Dan Martinez, Meg Devlin, my Lady of the Lake . . . Why? And why did he spend all of that time in my company, Luke, Rinaldo, my enemy? I have to find a way to warn the others. If he succeeds in turning Ghostwheel upon them then Brand's dream-my nightmare of vengeance-will be realized. I see now that I have made many mistakes . . . Forgive me, Julia . . . I will pace the measure of my confinement yet again. Somewhere there must be a gap in the icy blue logic that surrounds me, against which I hurl my mind, my cries, my bitter laughter. Up this hall, down the tunnel. The blue is everywhere. The shadows will not bear me away, for there are no shadows here. I am Merlin the pent, son of Corwin the lost, and my dream of light has been turned against me. I stalk my prison like my own ghost. I cannot let it end this way. Perhaps the next tunnel, or the next...
I think it's kind of cool that Merlin wound up imprisioned in a crystal cave.
I'll be back with the next in a couple days.