Rating (series) 5/5
1. Nine Princes in Amber (1970)
2. The Guns of Avalon (1972)
3. The Sign of the Unicorn (1975)
4. The Hand of Oberon (1976)
5. The Courts of Chaos (1978)
Read again? Yes!
Gotta start with this series, since that's the one that grabbed me back in 1983 or so.
I got Volume 1 of 2 from my brother-in-law. The thick hardcover sat unread for a few months before I finally picked it up and opened it. From that point, it was difficult to put the thing down. Zelazny had a sharp, solid writing style that has become the major influence in my own muddling attempts at writing. All the Amber books are written in first person, with Lord Corwin, Prince of Amber, the man who would be king, telling us his life story. Several times--for as events unfold through the five Corwin novels, he is forced to re-evaluate his understanding of things.
There are many literary references, mostly to Shakespeare; and there is enough dealing and double-dealing in Corwin's family to give Machiavelli a migraine. But through all the back-stabbing and throat-cutting, all the intrigues and secretive alliances, through all things runs a single golden thread, the reason for all these things: Amber.
Amber is the archetype of every city, every civilization that has existed, does exist, or will ever exist. It is said that all roads lead to Amber: this is true, if one but knows the way. Amber represents Order. Her polar opposite at the far end of reality is the Courts of Chaos. Between these two poles--Order and Disorder--lies everything, including our own world, which is but a shadow of Amber.
Corwin and his family are granted certain powers by the Power that formed Amber itself, a mysterious glowing design graven in blue fire. This "Pattern" gives them the ability to walk (or ride a horse) away from Amber, working their will upon their surroundings, changing the sky, the land, the people until the world matches what they've imagined. They call these worlds "Shadows," little more than pale copies of Amber herself.
Their other big ability (and the one that I thought the coolest) lies in the Trumps. Basically a set of Tarot cards, with some added face cards representing each member of the royal family. If you have a Trump for a person, you just concentrate on the card, imagine that the person is actually there, and *contact* you're looking at them and talking to them. If you touch the other person, you can bring them through the link to wherever you are.
Who needs Warp Speed, with cool stuff like this?