Prince of Chaos: It’s over!

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Prince of Chaos is the final (hooray) novel in Roger Zelazny’s AMBER CHRONICLES. I really liked the first five AMBER books. These are often referred to as the Corwin Cycle because they detail events that happened to Corwin, one of the nine princes in the “real” world of Amber (our world is just a Shadow world that they visit). The remaining five books are called the Merlin Cycle because their protagonist is Merlin, son of Corwin. The last of these, Prince of Chaos, was published in 1991, 21 years after the first AMBER book, Nine Princes in Amber, and just a few years before Zelazny’s death at age 58 in 1995.

Merlin has just found out that he is third in line for the throne of the Courts of Chaos because most of the 30 or so claimants in front of him have recently been killed off. This comes as a huge surprise to Merlin, though readers will have seen this coming for three or four books now. The remaining claimants want him dead, of course. Actually, it seems that all of Merlin’s acquaintances either want to kill him, are mad at him, or need his help with something.

Merlin spends a huge amount of time in this book talking and gossiping with various people and/or their pattern-ghosts about all the scheming that’s been going on all along. He discovers that he has been manipulated from before birth and that he has been a completely clueless dupe for most of his life while the Pattern and the Logrus, and many of the humans he knows, have been contriving to make him their pawn. This is so convoluted and loosely plotted that it feels like a really bad soap opera (I know I keep saying this, but it’s the best analogy, I think). Prince of Chaos was so boring and tiresome that I increased the speed on the Audible app as far as it would go and just let it wash over me as quickly as possible.

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Audio version. (Wil Wheaton!)

The non-talky part of the plot is loose, too. At one point Merlin decides to use a trump to try to reach his father Corwin, who he hasn’t seen since he was a young boy. (I’m not sure why we haven’t seen him try this before; it seems like he should have been doing this regularly, especially since he keeps mentioning that he wonders where his dad is.) Guess what?? Corwin is alive! (Raise your hand if you already knew this. Yes, I see you!) So Merlin must find and rescue Corwin. Also, Coral needs to be rescued because she’s been kidnapped. She is also a pawn in all of this.

All of the major conflicts are resolved fairly easily, some in as little as 10 seconds. I’m not kidding. It’s like this:

Enemy (paraphrased): “Merlin, I’ve hated your guts, been your worst enemy, and tried to kill you for all my life, but I’m tired of all that, so let’s be friends.”

Merlin (paraphrased): “Sounds great! I forgive you! Let us work together now.”

Enemy (paraphrased): “Cool!”

This happens more than once. Other major tensions are similarly wiped out in an instant. Several times I exclaimed out loud: “Really?? Are you serious??” I was listening to Wil Wheaton narrate Audible Studio’s version of Prince of Chaos and, knowing how sarcastic he can be, I kept expecting him to comment on how ridiculous the plot was. But he didn’t or, if he did, Audible edited it out. (Wheaton did a great job with these books, by the way, and I probably would have quit three books ago if it hadn’t been that I just liked listening to him.)

I’m not sure if Zelazny was tired of Amber, or if he was just tired of writing (most of his work was collaborative at this stage of his life), but the Merlin Cycle compares unfavorably with the earlier AMBER books. It is a slog. I would recommend that readers complete the Corwin Cycle (the first five books) and maybe the first novel of the Merlin Cycle (Trumps of Doom) in audio format (the audio narration for all the novels is excellent). If you still love it, keep going, by all means, especially if you’re just enjoying listening to Wil Wheaton. If at this point you’re bored, like I was, then just read the plot summaries at Wikipedia to find out how it turns out.


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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