Trumps of Doom: Begins the Merlin Cycle

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsTrumps of Doom by Roger Zelazny science fiction audiobook reviewsTrumps of Doom by Roger Zelazny

Trumps of Doom (1985) is the sixth novel in Roger Zelazny’s immensely popular AMBER CHRONICLES. It does not stand alone. You need to read the previous books first, starting with Nine Princes in Amber, and you’ll need to read the rest of the series if you want to get the full story.

The first five AMBER books, which are more popular than the latter five, told the story of Corwin, one of the nine princes of Amber, the one true world (our world is only a “Shadow” parallel universe). Corwin’s family, which rules Amber, is somewhat dysfunctional. The story details their plotting and scheming against each other while they try to keep at bay the forces of Chaos that are constantly assaulting them. They have a few magical talents, such as the ability to construct and interact with Shadow worlds (parallel universes). They can also create Trumps (like Tarot cards) that allow them to step through to places or people drawn on the card.

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Audio version

The last five books of the AMBER CHRONICLES are told from the perspective of Merlin, the son of Corwin and a princess of Chaos. What a heritage! Merlin can draw on both the powers of Amber and Chaos. You might think that would make him unstoppable, but it doesn’t. In fact, he’s always on the defensive. As Trumps of Doom opens, it’s April 30, the day of the year that someone always tries to kill Merlin. He has no idea why because he’s not involved in Amber politics. He’s been living in California (his favorite Shadow world) for years, studying computer science and building a computer program he calls Ghostwheel that he hopes will help him find his father (Corwin) who’s been missing for a long time.

On this particular April 30, Merlin’s ex-girlfriend, a normal human, is brutally murdered by animals from another Shadow world, and Merlin wants to know why. During his investigation, he meets several strange people, gets shot at, gets poisoned with a neurotoxin, plays a riddle game with a sphinx, becomes a prisoner, and discovers that one of his best friends is not what he appears to be. When he is called to Amber by his uncle Random (the current king of Amber, who we know from the previous books), Random is not happy about Ghostwheel, even though he doesn’t understand it, and he wants Merlin to shut it down. Merlin has trouble doing this. The end, as usual for these short novels, is a cliffhanger.

Trumps of Doom is only 5.5 hours long in audio format. The first few AMBER novels were originally serialized, which is why they’re short and end with cliffhangers, and I guess Zelazny or his publisher wanted to be consistent by making all of them short with cliffhangers. You can purchase an omnibus edition of the entire AMBER CHRONICLES, but when I did that years ago, it was so fat and unwieldy that my mass market paperback version fell apart when I was half way through. It’s a little disappointing that audio readers will have to purchase each of these short novels separately, but Audible Studios, who produced them, probably had no choice in this.

The first five AMBER novels were narrated by Alessandro Juliani, who was perfect for Corwin’s voice. For the Merlin Cycle, though, they’ve chosen Wil Wheaton, which was a brilliant move. While the first five books were written in the 1970s, the last five were written in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They have a different tone, sounding more modern and techy. Wil Wheaton’s more youthful, sarcastic, and aggressive voice fits well.

Trumps of Doom was the 1986 winner of the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel.


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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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One comment

  1. “Corwyn’s family, which rules Amber, is somewhat disfunctional.”

    Way to understate, Kat!

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