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Literature / The Chronicles of Amber

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"Never trust a relative. It is far worse than trusting strangers. With a stranger there is a possibility that you might be safe."

The Chronicles of Amber is a Fantasy series by Roger Zelazny. Originally a series of five novels released from 1970-1977 about Corwin, Prince of Amber, it was followed up by a second series of five books released from 1986-1991 (The Second Chronicles of Amber) about Corwin's son, Merlin.

Amber is the one true world of which all others, including our Earth, are mere shadows.

A man wakes up in a hospital with no idea of who he is. Among the small number of things he remembers is a great range of skills and experiences, the fact that he heals fast, and never to trust family. When he visits the sister who had him committed, he finds in her possession a strange deck of Tarot cards featuring familiar faces in Renaissance Fair clothes, one of which is his own. Trying to find out more about himself without revealing he has no memories, he gets carried into a knot of family intrigues, counter-plots, magic, swashbuckling, and assassination. After all, just because he doesn't know the ins and outs of whose Throne is at stake doesn't mean he's not a contender.

The Chronicles of Amber happily combines different streaks of Fantasy and Science Fiction and all kinds of Other Dimensions. It features both epic elements and a dark-ish Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism.

Not to be confused with The City Of Ember. Also the classic Dungeons & Dragons module Castle Amber is not officially based on this series, instead being based on various works from Clark Ashton Smith, though some elements of the module are similar to certain ones from this series.

The volumes are:

The Original Series (Corwin as narrator):

  • Nine Princes in Amber
  • The Guns of Avalon
  • Sign of the Unicorn
  • The Hand of Oberon
  • The Courts of Chaos

The Second Chronicles of Amber (Merlin as narrator):

  • Trumps of Doom
  • Blood of Amber
  • Sign of Chaos
  • Knight of Shadows
  • Prince of Chaos

Short stories:

  • "The Salesman's Tale"
  • "The Shroudling and the Guisel"
  • "Blue Horses, Dancing Mountains"
  • "Coming to a Cord"
  • "Hall of Mirrors"
  • "A Secret of Amber"

In 1991, the Tabletop Game Amber Diceless Roleplaying was released, followed by Shadow Knight in 1993; the expansion Rebma was announced but never released. There was supposedly a prequel series in 2002-2006 by another author... but they never happened, as confirmed by George R. R. Martin and Neil Gaiman, two friends and colleagues of the late Roger Zelazny. During his life, Zelazny had repeatedly and firmly turned down the possibility of an anthology of Amber stories by other authors.

The complete first series was published in an omnibus edition called The Chronicles of Amber. After the second series was written, both series were published in omnibus editions called The First Chronicles of Amber and The Second Chronicles of Amber, respectively. A single volume edition of all the novels has been published as The Great Book of Amber: The Complete Amber Chronicles.

The novels and short stories provide examples of:

  • Abnormal Ammo: In Amber, the only known substance that can be used as a propellant for firearms is a form of jeweler's rouge from a distant dimension.
  • The Ageless:
    • Played straight with the Amber Royalty, although the case of Oberon is somewhat ambiguous—he seems to be older, but that may just be his nature. Or, as the founder, the same rules may not apply to him.
    • Subverted with the nobility of Chaos; although they seem to be extremely long-lived, there are examples of aged and infirm Chaos lords. But then, the Pattern sustains its servants.
  • Alternate History: In The Guns of Avalon Corwin travels to an alternate African coast that has never seen human habitation to harvest diamonds from the sand.
  • Always Someone Better: Benedict to everybody else. Eric is this to Corwin, although even Corwin speculates that it's mostly a mental block on his part and gets the better of Eric a few times in the first book, in both swordplay and a contest of wills via Trump. Luke may or may not be this to Merlin; they're extremely competitive with each other and have similar backgrounds. Or it may be that he's so damn well-adjusted, despite having two megalomaniac parents and spending half the second series on a pointless war of vengeance, as opposed to Merlin.
  • Amnesiac Resonance: In the first chapters yet-nameless Corwin easily remembers how to beat up people, use firearms and swords, conduct a discreet search, handle guard dogs. He does recognize faces of his sisters and brothers. His Healing Factor doesn't surprise him. Yet his and his sister's names given in the hospital ring no bells, meaning they are fake.
  • Amplifier Artifact: Spikard Rings - incredibly powerful rings of ancient and mysterious origins, connected to multiple sources of magic powers located around The Multiverse, that allow their users to create any magical spells they need in an instant - more practical and powerful than most magic in the universe. Merlin theorizes that at full power a person armed with one can even damage manifestations of Pattern and Logrus. However, they seem to be addictive and can be corrupted by other magic - one cabal 'plants' a spikard for Merlin to find which proves to be enchanted with mind-controlling spells, and only the fact that Bleys swapped the corrupt spikard for another keeps Merlin from suffering Mind Control for who knows how long.
  • Apocalypse How
    • Multiversal physical annihilation is narrowly averted in the fifth book.
    • Corwin laments that his favorite world suffered planetary (or greater) annihilation before the series began.
  • Audio Adaptation: A full line of books on tape as read by the author himself.
    • With a somewhat storied history. Zelazny himself originally recorded the first nine books in unabridged format for Sunset Productions, which then all received release in abridged format, complete with weird sound effects and voice modulations (when the narration noted that someone laughed, a short clip of a laugh—the same slightly maniacal laugh every time—played). All but the seventh and ninth of that set were later published in unabridged format. The lack of a read-by-the-author audiobook for the last novel was easily explained—Zelazny died before he got around to reading it. In 2009, after much shuffling of rights and masters, Speaking Volumes acquired the Zelazny readings of 7 and 9, 7 (Blood of Amber) having been partially destroyed in the intervening fifteen years and requiring a stand-in reader for the first four chapters. Finally, everything on record Zelazny had read for Amber had been made for sale.
      • When looking on Audible today, the Sunset Productions readings by Zelazny are absent. They've recently (as of 2014) been rerecorded, with Alessandro Juliani reading the first five and Wil Wheaton, of all people, reading the second five. In light of the Zelazny originals, the 90s fill-ins for the ones that Zelazny died before completing and the recent re-recordings, this probably makes the Amber series one of the most rerecorded audiobook sets in the history of scifi, if not in the history of all literature still in copyright.
  • Author Avatar: An understated Mauve Shirt cameo as Roger, one of the prison guards. He is writing "a philosophical romance shot through with elements of horror and morbidity." He writes the dark parts while in the dungeon. He never does tell Corwin if it will have a happy ending...
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Random and the Unicorn, Merlin confronting Dara. In neither case do we see the actual coronation but those are the moments that lock down who will be crowned—and who will be pulling the strings.
  • Badass Boast: Corwin, being a poetic sort and a certified badass and having no shortage of self-regard, gets several of these. In his own series, Merlin is far more humble and conflict-shy but even he manages a few.
    Scrof: "Do you know the odds of a Chaos Lord coming this far to go two out of three with a Dweller?"
    Merlin: "One out of one should be enough." As I crossed the line.
  • Big Bad Friend: Brand is revealed to be this for the first half of the series, after Eric is redeemed and Corwin spends a while puzzling out the family's real villain, while Dara and the Courts of Chaos establish themselves as Greater Scope Villains to Amber. In the series' second half, it's a Big Bad Shuffle: Rinaldo, Jasra, Mask/Julia, and Jurt all have independent but intertwining schemes. Then, in the final book, Dara, Mandor, and the Logrus itself become Merlin's final antagonists.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Corwin and Ganelon bringing reinforcements in Guns of Avalon. Notably, Corwin wasn't planning a rescue: until he got there...
    This would work out much better for me than the bloody assault culminating in regicide that I had been planning. I smiled to myself. I was about to become a hero.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: More than a few - see the Characters page for particulars.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Flora, Deirdre, and Fiona, respectively. Normally, you'd expect the fourth sister to have brown hair to complete the series, but Llewella has green hair, like most Rebmans.note 
  • Bloody Murder: As you get closer to the Chaos end of Shadow, the spilled blood of Chaosites tends to burst into flame when exposed to air. Can be good or bad, depending on what you do with it. Also, the blood of Dworkin's descendants can damage the Primal Pattern.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: When it isn't Gray-and-Grey Morality. The Princes of Amber regard anything, up to and including the annihilation of an entire dimension, as permissible out in Shadow. They don't necessarily approve of mass murder, except of course when it's necessary to their plans - they just don't see that it matters much. We Have Reserves and We Are as Mayflies contribute to this attitude. On the other hand, relatively minor affronts such as insulting another Prince can lead to centuries of blood feuding.
  • Body to Jewel: The Jewel of Judgment is the eye of Serpent of Chaos.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Averted. Oberon makes a specific rule about it. Surprisingly, it's one of the few rules the family keeps, even though some siblings (e.g. Corwin in regard to Deirdre, Julian in regard to Fiona) do think about breaking it.
    • Played straight after Oberon's death (and Deirdre's death) by Corwin and Deirdre's Pattern-Ghosts, who are both sustained by the second Pattern drawn by Corwin (they seem be dwelling within the resultant alternate universe). The Corwin Pattern-ghost thanks Merlin for returning his dead sister to him, and informs him that the brother/sister pairing intends to cherish each other for so long as their somewhat ephemeral existences endure.
  • Burying a Substitute: Corwin underwent a sudden and longtime disappearance, (even for what is essentially an immortal demigod, it was a long time) and eventually his family created a cenotaph for him. When he finally returns from exile, he's quite amused by it, and somewhat surprisingly he finds he rather likes hanging out there, as it's a quiet, out of the way spot that is good for getting away from family intrigue and politics for a bit. He also admits that he's more fond of pissing on his own "grave" than he really should be.
  • Cain and Abel: To the power of ten, given the family relationships shown, and one of the brothers is actually named Caine. (Over the entire first 5 books, only one brother succeeds in deliberately killing a brother. Guess who it is?) This relationship is especially in play between Corwin and Eric, who actually are full brothers.
  • Call-Back: When Corwin kills Borel with a bunch of dirty moves, Borel chastises him for it, and Corwin retorts that this is a fight to the death, not the Olympic games. Much later on, Merlin finds himself fighting a clone of Borel on a sheet of ice, and when Borel again complains about the unfair fight, Merlin tells him this isn't the Winter Games either.
  • The Casanova: Several examples: see the Characters page.
  • Changing of the Guard: The Merlin novels. The torch is passed back to Corwin for the short stories "Blue Horse, Dancing Mountains" and "Hall of Mirrors." It's unclear who would have been the main character if Zelazny had survived to write an eleventh book.
  • Character Development: Invoked, Corwin is increasingly surprised by both the actions of his family and his own deeds. In the fifth book he speculates that perhaps the emotional maturation of Amberites may happen over the course of centuries, instead of apace with their bodies.
  • The Chase - Julian lives for this one. Benedict engages in it at one point due to a misunderstanding.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Several: the Pattern, the Jewel of Judgement, and the Abyss all qualify.
  • The Clan: The royalty of Amber.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Many, if not most, of the characters; see the Characters page for particularly outstanding examples.
  • Cosmic Keystone: The Pattern, and the Logrus, and the Jewel of Judgment, and the Keep of Four Worlds, and pretty much everything by the end of the Merlin Cycle.
  • Cutlery Escape Aid: Corwin attempts to steal a knife at a banquet, but it's confiscated. This leads to him attempting to dig his way out of his cell with a spoon.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Random gets a chapter in "Sign of the Unicorn" to tell his version of his meeting with Corwin and Flora in the first book. "The Salesman's Tale" is from Luke's point of view. "Coming to a Cord" is from Frakir's.
  • Demonic Possession/Puppeteer Parasite: The ty'iga in books six and seven. Turns into Grand Theft Me when she possesses Nayda, who was dying at the time, and gets Trapped in the Host.
  • Disappeared Dad: Corwin to Merlin, Oberon to Corwin. Zelazny's own father died early.
  • Disney Acid Sequence: Sign of Chaos starts out as one. Don't drop LSD and shift Shadow, kids!
  • Doctor's Orders: The nurse invokes this in the opening scenes with usual effectiveness.
  • Doing In the Wizard: Some of the explanations in the second series for things introduced in the first; especially the Keep of Four Worlds as the source of Brand's power rather than just his personal awesomeness.Which is a little bizarre, since most of the things he is described doing are abilities the second series ascribes to walking the Logrus.
  • Doppelgänger: Shadow doubles, Pattern/Logrus ghosts, shape-shifters engaged in an impersonation...
  • Dramatic Drop: Defied by Merlin—just before he drops a reveal on Flora in Blood of Amber, he specifically asks her to put down anything she's holding that would make a mess if she dropped it.
  • Driving Question: Who shot Corwin's tires? Who is behind the Dark Road? For the later books, who is Mask? What happened to Corwin?
  • Dude, She's Like in a Coma:
    • Merlin with Coral. Subverted in that she's half-awake, "thought [he'd] never ask," and both of them are forced into it to escape.
    • Another one in "The Shroudling and the Guisel," where Rhanda reveals she's visited Merlin at night with the aid of sleeping spells over the years. Subverted in that Merlin's reaction is to say the he just wished she'd have woken him up for it.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • Flora's hair color, and whether Random or Eric is Corwin's full brother all change after the first book. Some of this can be handwaved away by Corwin's amnesia at the time, though.
    • The family members are also much more openly murderous and borderline sociopathic in the first book as opposed to the later ones. Julian attempts to murder Corwin and Random about a week after exchanging pleasant hellos with Random and catching him up on the family news, and Eric has few qualms about executing Deirdre for running away. Although Julian's attitude is explained in the later books, especially as far as Random goes.
    • The Amberites are significantly less confident in their physical prowess in the first book — at one point Flora, Random and Corwin are hysterically nervous about a few thugs — as Random notes later on, he could probably have taken them out on his own by the rules for their abilities that are later established. On the other hand, both Random and Flora display power over shadow that Amberites do not have in later books.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Certain incarnations of Chaos.
  • Empathic Weapon: Frakir, and the Jewel of Judgment.
  • Enemy Mine: Bleys and Corwin agree to cooperate in the first book only because Eric holds the position both of them intend to take: and they're both open about the fact that sooner or later they'll turn on each other. Similar deals and alliances are made - and broken - all through the series.
  • Energy Being: The Reveal of the ty'iga in Blood of Amber and Kergma in Prince of Chaos: Ghostwheel presents a variant of the trope, since its physical body remains in one remote dimension, but it can project an immaterial presence to almost anywhere.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Corwin wakes up with amnesia and immediately breaks out of his 'care' facility because he assumes that an enemy is behind it all. (And he's right.)
  • Evil Redhead: All the redheads take a turn at this, but only Brand stays evil.
  • Expansion Pack World: The Merlin chronicles.
  • Expendable Alternate Universe: With an uncomfortable twist. In The Chronicles of Amber it is Amber that is real: who cares what happens in all those tag-along parallel worlds (including our Earth)? The passage where Corwin and Bleys harvest a parallel world for soldiers really brings this attitude home, as does Random's attitude to a Shadow truck driver who runs them off the road.
    • Corwin is a noted softy just for feeling bad about getting his duped soldiers killed. When he tries to surrender an obviously over-matched fleet, Eric has them wiped out just to screw with him.
  • Expy: Oberon for Zeus. Try to match up the rest of the cast with Olympians. It's fun!
  • Eye Scream: There are several such incidents in the series: Corwin in the first book, Brand in the fifth, Jurt in the seventh, and Coral in the ninth. And possibly the Serpent of Chaos, long ago.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Several. Merlin's stepbrother Mandor, Brand, Dara, and several others.
  • Fantastic Nuke: It's revealed in the Merlin series that sufficiently-skilled Lords of Chaos can use their power to annihilate an area and all creatures within it. Merlin deems it Awesome, but Impractical, sticking to attacks that allow him to take prisoners or gather evidence from the battlefield.
  • Fantastic Firearms: Corwin equips his army with guns that use jewellers' rouge as a propellant, because it's the only substance that functions as an explosive in Amber.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Subverted: Everyone knows gunpowder doesn't work in Amber. Everyone wields swords. Corwin discovers a replacement powder (while polishing a present for his baby sister) and arms some troops with assault rifles. It's devastating.
    • It's still such a logistical nightmare that it sees limited use. The powder is produced in Avalon shadows, in small quantities, as a jewel polish. The bullets then have to be produced on Earth shadows where the purchaser has to find somebody willing to make custom ammo with completely inert powder as a propellant, again in limited quantities to avoid attracting the attentions of governments. When you can just stop by a shadow where they had a prophesy about your coming and hand you an army of hundreds of thousands (which was exactly what Corwin did in the first book) it has limited utility, especially after the surprise element is gone.
  • Faux Death
    • Caine, Bleys and Oberon, as well as the protagonist Corwin, who starts the books presumed dead by most of his family.
    • Furthermore, siblings presumed by Corwin to have died before the start of the novels may actually be alive. At least two of the 'presumed dead' siblings are confirmed to be alive by Rinaldo in the seventh book... but they're content living secretly far off in Shadow. Or so we're told.
  • Fisher King: Dworkin relating to the Pattern, the Pattern relating to Amber
  • Friendly Enemy: The Amberites to each other in general.
  • Functional Magic: The Pattern, the Trumps, the Logrus, Sorcery.
  • Gambit Pileup: Let's put it this way: At the beginning, there are two opposing triumvirates, both of which have rogue members - as well as multiple wild cards, neutral but interested factions, and a Chessmaster. And that's just in the first book - the Courts of Chaos haven't even been introduced yet.
  • Genre Shift: Carl Corey thinks he's in a hard-boiled mystery novel, until hints start dropping that he's actually an amnesiac fantasy hero. Not that this changes his personality much once he clues in. Or anyone else's behavior. At least his use of outmoded slang eventually disappears.
  • A God Am I: The first thing that any of Oberon's children do upon gaining the ability to wander through alternate dimensions is usually to find a dimension which they consider to be a paradise, complete with an entire society of worshipers. Considering that even the Amberites do not know whether they just find worlds or actually create them through their imagination, they might be right.
  • God Guise: Justified. Corwin and Bleys look for the kind of Shadows where saviors/gods who just happen to look just like them are foretold.
  • Hazy-Feel Turn: Some of Corwin's less heroic but more pragmatic siblings go through this. Fiona in particular.
  • Healing Factor: Much is made of the superior healing of Amberites and their kin; Corwin grows back his lost eyes, though it takes him four years.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Several. Bleys, Fiona, Rinaldo, Jurt, Caine, Julian...
  • Hellhound: Julian's hunting dogs. After they chase down Corwin and Random's car, they start to tear the metal body apart.
    Random: We're lucky: they went for the bumper instead of the tires. They've probably never hunted a car before.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Happens in the backstory: Corwin, back when he was the lord of Avalon, at one point overcomes a traitor, carries him to a remote Shadow where survival is unlikely, and strands him there. Years later, Eric defeats Corwin, carries his unconscious body to a remote Shadow where survival is unlikely, and strands him there.
  • Horse of a Different Color: Like blue. Or tiger-striped.
  • Hunting "Accident": Mentioned in the backstory:
    Corwin: [My archenemy] and I had gone out hunting...
    Ganelon: It seems strange that the two of you, being on the terms you were, would go out alone together.
    Corwin: Well, perhaps it was a bit more contrived than I make it sound. Perhaps the two of us had reasons to want to be out hunting by ourselves.
    Ganelon: I see.
    • Merlin narrowly averts one in his own backstory, courtesy of his baby brother Jurt.
  • I Know You Know I Know: Oberon's entire family seems to have such a good grasp on what everybody else is thinking that it borders on telepathy. Corwin (while amnesiac) uses this to bluff info out of his sister. Then again they've had centuries, or possibly millennia, to learn each other's quirks and weaknesses.
  • Immortal Immaturity: Most of the immortal characters in the series are spiteful, petty, power-hungry, ruthless, opinionated, smug, and manipulative. Others are immature in other ways, such as Llewella and Benedict (who are emotionally isolated from most of their family) or Dworkin (who is kindly enough during his lucid moments but still a bit of a prankster and manipulator.)
  • Improperly Placed Firearms: In Trumps of Doom, a major plot point involves a cache of ammunition that will fire in Amber, and Random and Merlin breaking out one of Corwin's assault rifles to test some of it. The ammunition is mentioned as being .30-30, a caliber that is only found in lever-action sporting rifles and has never seen significant military usage. Corwin's rifles are mentioned as firing from box magazines; the .30-30 round is only found in weapons that load from an internal tubular magazine, where a conventional spitzer bullet can lead to a dangerous chainfire incident.
    • There were a few .30-30 rifles which fired from magazines specifically to overcome this ballistic disadvantage of the cartridge (only being able to use flat-nose or round-nose bullets), such as the Stevens 325/Savage 340 and the Remington 788, but they were bolt-action hunting rifles with low capacity magazines.
  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet: Shadow Earth is just one of myriads and not all that relevant to most of the characters.
    • Though some do seem to have a thing for Shadow Earth. Corwin (and Flora) spent three centuries there, and it's theorized it became more 'real' as a result.
  • Intro Dump: Chapter 3 of Nine Princes in Amber, in which Corwin, suffering from Laser-Guided Amnesia, finds Flora's Trump deck, allowing Zelazny to name each of Corwin's living siblings, physically describe them, and tell the reader what Corwin thinks of them. Chapter 1 of Blood of Amber has Merlin summing up the events of Trumps of Doom.
  • Inverse Law of Utility and Lethality: The Amberites can pronounce a powerful world(s)-breaking curse— but only when they're dying. Corwin is the first one to use this power and then recover from his near-death state.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Arguably, most of the Amberites have good intentions...
  • Julius Beethoven da Vinci: Corwin had a slight case of this Trope, though he just knew all those people, rather than being them.
  • Keystone Army: When Corwin kills the goat-man Chaos Lord in Lorraine its entire army falls apart. The possessed men fall senseless and the demons burst into flames.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Bill, over his status as a One-Scene Wonder. This, however, is subverted, as Bill shows up again later, even contemplating retiring to Amber in the latter half of the series.
  • Last-Second Chance: Brand is offered this. He declines.
  • Left Hanging: Several loose ends appear in the latter five books, which are left unresolved due to the author's death.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Corwin himself at the start of the first book; then, in approximate order, Benedict, Brand, Luke/Rinaldo, Dalt, Delwin, Sand, and Coral.
  • Loveable Rogue: Several: see the Characters page for specific examples.
  • Manipulative Bastard: All the whole freaking family, except Gerard and maybe Benedict.
  • Marriage Before Romance: Random is forced to marry a Rebman noblewoman named Vialle, to lend her some status even after he deserts her. However, when Corwin sees him later, he has brought her with him to the courts. He explains that they had actually fallen in love.
  • Meaningful Funeral: Oberon gets an epic send-off.
  • Mind Screw: A recurring theme, or possibly Running Gag, is that any character (or reader) who thinks he or she finally understands how the universe works is going to be proven drastically wrong. The first book starts out feeling like a detective story. Then alternate worlds are introduced, with Amber as the locus or primary of all Shadows. Then it's revealed that there are two poles of reality... and so on, and so on...
  • Mind Your Step: Gerard insists there is a loose step on the stairs to the Pattern Room. note 
  • Mirror World: Rebma and Tir-na Nog'th, and to a certain extent all of the multiverse apart from Amber and the Courts of Chaos. And even Amber is a mirror, although it's the very first shadow of its respective side's true world.
  • Mobile Maze: The Logrus.
  • Muggle Best Friend: Bill Roth, Rein, Droppa. The second series subverts this: 'Luke' is not what he seems.
  • The Multiverse: Pretty much the fundamental trope of the series, but used to surprisingly good effect for most of it.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: In The Guns of Avalon, Corwin visits a long-abandoned house and notes in the narration that "There was an obscenity scrawled on the wall in the foyer."
  • The Neutral Zone: The Courts of Chaos and Amber are the true realities note . All other sub-realities (ours included) are buffer zones of varying degrees between the two primary ones.
  • Never Found the Body: At the climax of Nine Princes in Amber, Bleys falls off a very high cliff above the ocean. The general reaction from his relatives is "Yeah, nobody could have survived that, but..."
  • Noodle Incident: Sometime between the first part of Book I and Corwin's arrival in Lorraine early in Book II, Oberon escapes from an unspecified, decades-long imprisonment. He later implied that Dara was of help to him in this escape... and that's the only detail we're given.
  • No Place for Me There: Benedict points out that Brand's view of a perfect world isn't so perfect if it includes gigantic dueling armies.
  • Offered the Crown: Corwin turns it down and it later falls to Random.
  • Order Versus Chaos: Tied into the many variant universes, though the main differences between Order and Chaos seem to be political. The manifestations of these forces are also sentient, hate each other, and are not very nice to anyone else either. That doesn't mean that the people within either faction get along at all; there's also plenty of Order Versus Order and Chaos Versus Chaos.
    • Further complicated in the fifth book, when Corwin, tricked into thinking that the original Pattern was destroyed, creates another, different Pattern - introducing a new form of Order into the playing field. Both of the existing Powers are not happy about that.
    • There is the additional subversion that Lords of Chaos are much more honorable and have a complicated form of hierarchy within which all intrigues and schemes happens, while Amberites are more or less pragmatic, backstabbing manipulators constantly changing aliances between one another and don't even mantain illusion of hierarchy among them. In short, the godlings who derive their power from chaos are ordered in alignment, and the ones who derive their power from order are chaotic.
  • Our Demons Are Different: There are many traditionally horned, fanged, and bat-winged demons in the Courts of Chaos, but there are also talking cats, furry snakes, mantis-dragon things with three hearts, and trickster mathematical abstractions. Most of the Lords of Chaos wear demonic forms and the line between mere demons and full Lords of Chaos is never clearly defined.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Merlin thinks Rhanda was one, and her family in turn discouraged her teenage romance with him, thinking that he was one (and hoping she'd marry up). However, it turns out that she's a "shroudling," a people who live behind mirrors and who eat people the world would be better off without in their opinion. They can apparently do this across Shadow.
  • Out of the Inferno: Benedict in The Guns of Avalon: Jurt in Sign of Chaos.
  • The Patient Has Left the Building: Corwin at the start of the first book.
  • Physical God: Both a deconstruction and reconstruction of this trope. The Amberites (and the Courts of Chaos) resemble nothing so much a warring pantheon, complete with the initial Ur-god shaping existence from chaos, the Father-philanderer, and the sibling rivalries.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Many of the crisis faced by Corwin and other Amberites could have been solved much more quickly and with less blood, sweat and tears if people with similar (or at least compatible) goals had just shared information earlier.
    • Justified in that they have a record of constantly manipulating and betraying one another like megalomaniac madmen for centuries. Many of them have actually changed and grown nicer and softer (or at least more reasonable and mature) with age (and they keep commenting about that) but it still takes a very long time and/or an imminent matter of life and death for them to even superficially trust one of their siblings.
  • Prematurely Marked Grave: Corwin had a longtime, sudden and unexplained exile, (longtime even for an immortal) and eventually his family presumed he was dead and built him a memorial tomb. When Corwin does finally return he is very amused by this, and occasionally likes to sit there and think, as it's a fairly scenic and undisturbed place. He also takes an inordinate amount of pleasure in pissing on his own grave.
  • Public Domain Character: Sir Lancelot (in The Guns of Avalon) and the Cheshire Cat and several other Wonderland characters (in Sign of Chaos). The reality of all other fictional characters is implied.
  • Reality Is Out to Lunch: And doesn't come back for tea. In the screwier parts of Shadow the basic relationships between the elements of reality are changed.
  • Reality Warper: Those beings with the requisite bloodlines and training can conjure up new worlds at a moment's whim...or at least visit them. Even discussed and debated in-universe: do the infinite number of Shadow worlds already exist out there in the aether, or are they only brought into existence if an Amberite (or Minion of Chaos) imagines and visits them? Leading to...
  • Reality Warping Is Not a Toy: Zig-Zagged. Most of the Amberites seem to think it is a toy, but Corwin has some qualms about treating Shadows as toys... sometimes. What Brand wanted to do to the multiverse was pretty bad: destroy and rebuild it in his twisted image. However when Corwin draws a new Pattern it has a positive influence (or maybe it just tilted the balance of power toward order, which may not have been a good thing after all). In any case, most everyone sees Dworkin's drawing of the original Pattern to have been an improvement over the reality that existed when Chaos was the only pole of reality.
    • Each and every Amberite has the ability to transfer themselves to another dimension (or create it by the act of attempting to go to it). Guess what happens when an Amberite takes LSD.
  • Really Gets Around: Oberon, brought to the fore after Coral and Dalt turn up. His Pattern-Ghost mentions having 47 illegitimate children when asked about it by Merlin.
  • Recycled Premise: The first series starts with Corwin missing, presumed dead, and he is later imprisoned and blinded. Also, Caine is killed. In the second series, Corwin is missing and presumed dead, Caine is killed off again, and Corwin is later discovered to have been imprisoned and deprived of sight.
  • Required Secondary Powers: Immortality comes with a Healing Factor. It's 'required' because without it these violent immortals would be carrying their various blindings, maimings and paralyses across the centuries with them.
  • The Reveal: A number of them (this is a plotting family), but the re-appearance of Oberon is the biggest.
  • Revenge: For most Amberites personal vendetta seems to be understandable, even desirable. Merlin at one point muses that if someone killed his father, he would get revenge, just like Luke/Rinaldo.
  • Rip Van Winkle: Referred to in The Courts of Chaos.
  • Ring of Power: The Spikards, Amplifier Artifacts for sorcerers, tied to powers possibly older than the Pattern.
  • Rite of Passage: All Amberites walk the Pattern when they reach maturity and thus gain power over Shadows. Corwin ends up going through the ultimate Rite of Passage when he creates his own Pattern.
    • Chaos Lords negotiate the Logrus in similar fashion and thereby gain a different (if roughly equivalent) array of powers. However, they seem to be better at using theirs or at least gain better understanding. Perhaps because Suhuy (the Keeper of the Logrus) is a better teacher than Dworkin. Or has better students.
  • Royal Bastard: King Oberon of Amber has fathered about 50 children, but only 15 or so are considered legitimate. The fact that Coral of Begma is one of his bastards is an important plot point in the later books.
  • Royal Blood: Metaphysically unique Royal Blood.
  • Sdrawkcab Name: Rebma is Amber's underwater reflection, where everything is mirrored, including the name.
  • Secret Test of Character: In book four, it's revealed that Ganelon was one for Corwin.
  • Sequel Escalation: Corwin has a magic sword and his Trumps; Merlin starts with a magical AI and a Morph Weapon that also functions as Spider-Sense (the enchanted rope Frakir), and he acquires a Ring of Power and a different set of Trumps that lets him reach places and people the other Amberites can't. Oh, and he's attuned to both the Pattern and Logrus, is a sorcerer and a shapeshifter, and can draw his own Trumps. The effect is enhanced by the different narrative styles used. Merlin is a technician who explains what he perceives, what he's doing, and why. "His" books casually explore the technical details of the setting, leaving human relationships as the mysteries to be uncovered. When Corwin's telling the story those aspects are mostly reversed; a more Romantic narrator, he tends to describe his less physical actions more as happenings taking place in his presence. We only really know the extent of Corwin's strength, stamina, and martial skills (which are far superior to Merlin's). His magical abilities are only hinted at in the short stories.
  • Sequel Non-Entity: Despite being a major player in the first novel, Bleys plays no further part in the remaining books in the first series, only warranting a brief mention at one point.
  • Shapeshifting: Those from the Courts of Chaos have this power naturally, including Merlin, Dworkin and Oberon. Shadow worlds also produce some shape-shifters, such as fairy folk and the Weir.
  • Silver Has Mystic Powers: Allegedly, the only thing that can kill Julian's horse Morgenstern. Also implied to be the only way to permanently destroy the Weir that appear in Nine Princes In Amber. Brand is eventually killed with a silver-tipped arrow, because Caine came to suspect that nothing else will finish him.
  • Shoutout: The beginning of Nine Princes in Amber is a shout-out to Raymond Chandler's work. Corwin's personality is certainly influenced by Philip Marlowe's. There are regular, unmarked quotations and plays on quotations throughout the narration - Shakespeare is a common source. In the sixth book, Amber's court jester is revealed to have stolen a lot of material from George Carlin.
  • Stable Time Loop: Corwin gets a mechanical arm from Ghost!Benedict in Tir-na Nog'th. The arm gets to the real Benedict, who uses it. Later on, Benedict and Dara are talking in the throne room and Corwin and the rest are trapped outside, only able to watch. An invisible Ghost!Corwin is there (they can see his sword) and Corwin realizes that it's his past self. Then Past!Corwin gets the mechanical arm from the real Benedict... feel free to bang your head against the nearest wall.
    • But they stand in different places and say different phrases. So it's not necessarily that Ghost!Corwin gave the arm to the same Ghost!Benedict from whom the real Corwin got the arm in the first place.
    • It's possible, of course, that this is a case of yet another form of Another Dimension rather than Stable Time Loop. Who knows?
  • Stalker with a Crush: In "The Shroudling and the Guisel," Rhanda tells Merlin that she's been watching him for years from the other side of mirrors and visiting him in his sleep. Merlin just wishes she had woken him.
  • Succession Crisis: The driving plot of the first five novels is the fact that there's no clear line of succession for the throne of Amber in Oberon's absence and the war between brothers vying for it. The crisis following the death of King Swayvill of Chaos in the tenth book prompts a rash of deadly duels and assassinations that drastically shortens the line of succession.
  • Squick: Invoked in-universe; Corwin mentions that he really doesn't want to think about the implication that he and his family are literally descended from a unicorn.
  • Surprise Incest
    • Corwin falls for a girl who turns out to be great-grand-daughter of a half-brother, sired upon an Eldritch Abomination.
    • His son Merlin is having a baby by Coral, who is his father's half-sister.
  • Taking You with Me: These people have real issues with losing.
    • Brand drags Deirdre into the Abyss.
    • The intended purpose of the blood curse of a Prince of Amber. Corwin makes his against Eric, thus dooming Eric's reign and indirectly aiding Chaos. Eric makes his against the Courts of Chaos, and it sticks.
  • Tarot Motifs: The Trumps are supposed to be the primal source of the concept of Tarot cards.
  • Tarot Troubles: The Trumps mostly just look like Tarot cards (they're actually a communication / transportation device), but there are times when one or another of the characters uses them for fortune-telling. It's usually downplayed by the character doing it as something to pass the time or help focus their thoughts ("Oh, Benedict, I hadn't thought about him, I wonder how he will react to my latest Secret Plan") as opposed to something they really believe in, though.
  • Tell Me About My Father: Dara takes this up to a new height, with a shrine to Benedict in her basement.
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted. Corwin has been a patient of Freud himself. Dworkin, however, was placed in solitary confinement after he turned one of his psychologists into a frog. And refused to turn him back.
    There are none of you, good doctors, could cope with my family anyway.
  • Thicker Than Water: You can not count on the family members turning on each other, or even refusing to help each other; sometimes they will help for no better reason than they are related. And the man who spares Corwin on learning who he is turns out to be his son.
  • Tim Taylor Technology: Merlin's sorcery seems to run on this trope, especially in the later books and stories. While at first he mentions how throwing raw power at a problem is unaesthetic and barbaric, later on he has no problem throwing rivers of power at anything that vexes him. This may be a side effect of picking up the spikard. It often works, though not when confronting either the Pattern or the Logrus.
  • Trope Maker: Played with in-universe; in Nine Princes in Amber the idea is introduced that all things in Shadow are imperfect reflections of things that exist in Amber. By the third book it's clear that this is not entirely accurate, but it still justifies why so many aspects of (the fictional) Earth's history and legends parallel things that exist in Amber.
  • Underwater City: Rebma is an underwater reflection of Amber, where everything in the city is duplicated in mirror image. The city's magic enables people to live and breathe underwater. Anything that happens in Amber is reflected in Rebma, which is why Rebmans are dubious about the machinations of the Amberites.
  • Unexpected Successor: Random in the first series after being appointed by the Unicorn. Merlin's ascension to the throne of Chaos in the second series.
  • Unicorns Are Sacred: Even Oberon regards a unicorn as a special being.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Arguably Corwin, especially when his viewpoint on a few characters is contrasted with Merlin's — his sisters in particular. Almost the entire first Chronicle is told by Corwin to Merlin, giving Corwin reason to not be entirely truthful. (Corwin does mention, several times, that Amberites can never trust their relatives, thus implying...) Additionally, at the beginning of the story, Corwin is amnesiac and has imperfect recollections (e.g. thinking Random is his full brother and Eric his half-brother because he feels closer to one than the other) until his memory is restored.
    • Merlin and Corwin's differing view of the Princesses of Amber has a rather simple alternate explanation: they come off differently to the two characters because Corwin is their respected and powerful older brother, while Merlin is a naive and rather exasperating nephew. Of course the two men are going to have very different experiences with and views of the Princesses.
  • Unwitting Pawn:
    • Corwin manages both to be a pawn to one scheme, a Spanner in the Works to another, and work on his own plan simultaneously. It's that kind of story.
    • Merlin remains a pawn until the second-to-last page of his book series, when he forcibly wrests control of his life away from the conspiracy that was using him as a pawn.
  • Up the Real Rabbit Hole: Subverted. The Amberites think of Amber as the only "real" world, but then Corwin finds a place that's even "realer."
  • The Uriah Gambit: It's mentioned that this is what happened to Osric, a long-dead son of Oberon. Also possibly to his brother Finndo.
  • Vancian Magic: Merlin's Logrus sorcery operates in this fashion, requiring Merlin to design and "hang" spells before he can employ them. He's not restricted solely to this kind of magic but he does claim that it's the most efficient and elegant way to use magic. The alternative is to simply unleash raw power and blast away, which is tiring, inelegant, and can be dangerously imprecise, as on a few occasions Merlin has used raw chaos magic only for it to destroy things or kill people that he didn't want destroyed or killed... yet.
  • We Are as Mayflies: The Amber royalty are either immortal or measure their lives in tens of millennia. Most of the princes and princesses tend to treat this as a justification for their casual murder of Shadow inhabitants. They'd be dead in a few decades anyway, after all...
    As I stood on a hilltop and the evening began around me, it seemed as if I looked out over every camp I had ever stood within, stretching on and on over the miles and the centuries without end. I suddenly felt tears come into my eyes, for the men who are not like the lords of Amber, living but a brief span and passing into dust, that so many of them must meet their ends upon the battlefields of the world.
  • Wham Episode: All the freakin' time. Zelazny is a master of this.
  • Wham Line: Almost all the books end in them. A typical example from The Guns of Avalon: "Who the hell is this Dara you keep talking about?"
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity
    • Justified in the case of Logrus initiates: their bodies and minds alike are transformed by direct contact with the Sign of Chaos. Usually, the resulting madness is temporary - and those with Shapeshifting can revert back from whatever changes he or she went through. Some people don't make it.
    • Discussed in the case of the Fount of Power, which may (or may not) cause madness to those seeking to absorb its power.
  • The Worf Effect: One should really start suspecting something is up with Ganelon once he beats up Gerard, Multiverse's Strongest Man.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: The two-and-a-half-to-one conversion rate for the time differential between Amber and Earth that Zelazny eventually establishes is...difficult to reconcile with the events of the narrative as presented. For just one example: the time between Corwin's imprisonment in the dungeon in Nine Princes and his triumphant return to Amber in The Guns of Avalon is around five years, from Corwin's perspective (nearly four years imprisoned, then some months recovering at Cabra, some more months in Lorraine with Ganelon, etc, etc). But when Corwin finds himself back on Earth after being stabbed and is coincidentally being treated by the same doctor who worked on him after his car accident, both he and the doctor are in agreement that the latter event happened seven years previously, Earth time. According to the time differential, it should have actually been twelve-and-a-half years. Even assuming Lorraine has a radically different time flow to Amber, the four years Corwin spent imprisoned means that the elapsed time on Earth really shouldn't be anything less than a decade.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: Tied in closely with the Amberites' ability to move through Shadows via the Pattern and the Chaosites' similar ability, the two groups are able to find dimensions in which time flows at a different rate than at 'home'. Several characters use this specific trick in order to fully recover from near mortal wounds by resting in a 'fast Shadow' for a month while only a day has passed in Amber. The same effect works in reverse: Corwin goes to explore a distant realm, is gone for little more than an hour, and then receives a mental communication from a sibling wondering where the hell he's been all week.

Alternative Title(s): Chronicles Of Amber, The Great Book Of Amber, Book Of Amber, Nine Princes In Amber