Shadows and dust of Amber

For the month of October, I mostly opted to play follow the leader – dashing through Nine Princes in Amber with the Puppy of the Month Club, and Frankenstein in solidarity with HP over at Every Day Should Be Tuesday.

*Moderate spoilers ahead!*


There are already a number of great Amber posts up, so feel free to check those out if you’re familiar with the story already and looking for some analysis:

Hooc Ott laid down a fascinating look at Amber’s influence on a classic D&D campaign module.

Jon M’s overview is worth a read. He makes some astute observations about the tone and setting of the story, and I’m in full agreement on how it concludes. It doesn’t feel like a good place to end, and while I generally prefer novellas to lengthy tomes, had I been reading Amber as it was written I’d have been disappointed.

The Frisky Pagan also makes some good points. I found myself nodding along to his opinion about the highs and lows of the first Amber tale. The invasion of Amber did seem anticlimactic and relatively dull compared to the character-building periods like Corwin’s imprisonment.

As I read the story myself, I found myself thinking about an exchange I had with Alex of Cirsova on Twitter:


As to his distaste for Corwin, I didn’t share the feeling but I can definitely see where he’s coming from. As the book advances, Corwin demonstrates admirable feelings like remorse, pity, and guilt. He may be a narcissist, but I didn’t find him consistently unlikable.

Alex’s second grievance gave me more pause (incidentally he also observed at the PotM Club blog that Amber’s shadowstuff was one of the main inspirations for D&D’s illusionist class).  I haven’t read past the first book, so I could be completely off-base here and contradicted by the succeeding stories, but my impression was that the Shadows were more than illusions.

So far as the children of Oberon believe, Amber is the only Substance; all else is Shadow. However it also appears that the people of Amber do not know everything about their world or how their powers work. They seem to speculate and take for granted.

Furthermore, Corwin feels sympathy for his Shadows. When he and Bleys move against Eric, our protagonist notes his pity for their dying, suffering soldiers. When faced with his inevitable defeat at sea, Corwin even decides that though he would personally never choose to surrender, he would give himself up to save his men. If these devotees were mere dust, only illusion, then why would he do such a thing (especially seeing as he clearly values himself so highly)? Is this nothing more than the sympathy one might feel for a video game avatar or maybe even a pet? Possible, but doubtful to me. Feelings of human decency might compel me not to beat a hooker to death in GTA, but they would not make me sacrifice in real life for said digital prostitute.

Even if Corwin doesn’t consciously realize it, I think he knows that the people of the Shadows are more than nothing. Perhaps this is a result of having lived on our Earth for some centuries. That, too, raises an interesting point. If the Shadow worlds are just reflections of Amber, devoid of any substance, then we too are nothing.

Again, I could be completely off the mark here. I’ll pick Amber back up sometime and see what else is said of the Shadow. But I want to give Zelazny credit here and believe that #ShadowLivesMatter, too. Otherwise, as Alex says, there are some big elements rendered meaningless.



9 thoughts on “Shadows and dust of Amber

  1. Here’s a cool bit from the Shadow Monster Illusionist spell from OSRIC:
    This is the first spell an illusionist can learn that draws upon the power of shadow planes behind the material plane of existence. This sort of magic is the hallmark of the truly powerful illusionist, for by tapping the power of the shadow planes an illusionist can weave quasi-reality into his or her phantasms. At this level of power, the illusionist can begin to reshape reality by the power of his or her mind.

    Even if the “shadows” from Amber are more than just illusions drawn by the powers of the princes, that there was nothing beyond the struggle for Corwin to take the crown made it hard for me to invest. I found myself thinking “What would make Corwin a better king than Eric? And if the shadows aren’t just illusion, what makes the millions of deaths worth it even if Corwin could win?” Corwin wasn’t a good enough dude, nor was Eric a bad enough dude, to make a mere shadowlander like myself care about their struggle.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s cool, indeed! I think part of the problem here is that nerds like us are an analytical and somewhat obsessive breed. I look at that description and think “Well, what is ‘quasi-reality’?”
      For me this is the biggest weakness is Zelazny’s story, here. Is there anything at stake, aside from a few “real” lives? Is most of the risk and loss just suffered by quasi-real shadow puppets?
      Your point is well taken; there were points where I found Corwin distasteful, too. For me, though, he became more relatable and likable. I don’t mind protagonists with an edge (I don’t think you do either). But I didn’t really care for Elric and he seems to have his fans, so. No accounting for taste.
      Thanks for weighing in and for your great observations!


      1. Hey, no prob! I haven’t read it yet, so I can’t say for myself, but given Jeffro’s review of Jack of Shadows and what I HAVE read, I get the sense that it may be a streak of nihilistic relativism in Zelazny’s fiction that makes it hard for me invest in the outcome of the stories. If I weren’t so steeped in hindu mythological fanboyism at the time I read Lord of Light, I might not have liked it, either!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I realize that there are other books on your plates, but I would say that you should read The Guns of Avalon before you make a decision one way or the other about the Amber books.

    I think you would have liked Lord of Light in any case, but it does make for a tough act to follow.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think that Zelazny’s heroes tend toward moral “ambiguity” rather than nihilism. They don’t act like whatever they will is right. They just sometimes do bad things and take a while to figure out that those things were bad and considering that a lot of his heroes are long lived or immortal that can take a long while.

    ps–not that you need a longer reading list but I have a particular fondness for his Dilvish the Damned stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting point about them figuring out their sins eventually. I’m only a short ways into Guns of Avalon now, but Corwin did make some remark about how he wouldn’t expect any of his brothers to help a wounded man on the side of the road, except for possibly a couple of them. So even with your observation considered, I guess some of them are better than others.

      And it may be that I can’t get to some books for quite some time, but recommendations always appreciated. Thanks, BD!


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