Sign of the Unicorn: Continues Corwin’s swiftly moving adventure

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSign of the Unicorn by Roger ZelaznySign of the Unicorn by Roger Zelazny

The usual warning: Review contains spoilers for previous book.

Sign of the Unicorn is the third novel in Roger Zelazny’s CHRONICLES OF AMBER. At the end of the previous novel, The Guns of Avalon, Corwin finally got what he wanted: Eric off the throne. Corwin is now the regent of Amber by legitimate claim and he holds the Jewel of Judgment which has powers over the weather and, as Corwin learns, other powers that may be dangerous to its owner.

You’d think that things might now be easy for Corwin, but not so. The forces of Chaos are crossing into Amber from the shadow worlds, and they must be stopped. But Corwin’s most immediate concern is treachery from his scheming siblings. One of them has just been murdered and someone is trying to frame Corwin. During the fallout, other murder attempts occur. It’s clear that Corwin is not safe as long as his siblings are alive, but he doesn’t know which of them he can trust. During his interactions with them he learns a lot of the history that he has been unaware of while spending centuries on Earth without his memory of Amber. These stories slow the action but serve to enlighten us further about Amber, the Shadow worlds, how the trumps and the pattern work, the alliances between the siblings, how Corwin lost his memories, and what may have happened to their father Oberon. Of course, Corwin knows that some of his siblings may not be telling him the truth… Looking for guidance, Corwin visits Tir-na Nog’th, the city of moonlight. Instead of the answers he wants, he receives ominous visions which suggest that the real truth is even more frightening than the petty sibling rivalries Corwin has been dealing with.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSign of the Unicorn continues Corwin’s swiftly moving adventure. Things slow down a bit during this installment while the siblings tell their stories, but there are lots of revelations and plot twists to make up for that. One thing that’s lacking in these stories, so far, is a sense of what Amber is like beyond of the realm of the royal family. We see very few people who aren’t related to Corwin — not even household servants. The story is so focused on the family intrigue that we really don’t get to know Amber outside that context, which is somewhat disappointing.

Sign of the Unicorn definitely doesn’t stand alone — you need to read the previous books, Nine Princes in Amber and The Guns of Avalon, first — and after the final revelation in Sign of the Unicorn, you won’t be able to stop there either, so plan to have the fourth book, The Hand of Oberon, ready. In fact, go ahead and get the fifth book, The Courts of Chaos, because the end of The Hand of Oberon is a doozy, too.

I read the entire CHRONICLES OF AMBER twenty years ago and am re-reading them now that they’ve been produced by Audible Frontiers. Each installment is rather short (only 5 or 6 hours on audio) which was usual for fantasy novels published back in 1970. Some of them had been previously serialized before being released in book form. The AMBER CHRONICLES are short and entertaining, but the length of each volume is something I’d consider when deciding whether or not to spend an Audible credit on them, especially since there are 10 books in the series (divided into two ARC). They are relatively inexpensive, though, and they’re certain to show up in Audible’s frequent sales. Alessandro Juliani does a great job with the narration — I really like him.

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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 and conducts brain research 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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