The Hand of Oberon (Book Review)


Those who have been following Roger Zelazny’s Amber chronicles will be aware now that Oberon (apart from being King of the Fairies in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream) is the father of the gaggle of backstabbing miscreants that comprise the Amberites. Oberon of Amber bears no resemblance to his Shakespearean namesake. In fact, following the course of the first four novels of the Amber series, Oberon has been missing (presumably kidnapped by nefarious so-and-sos). Yet, the novel is called The Hand of Oberon. The title itself is a major spoiler alert, for those with a mind to notice the reference. Corwin and his siblings are once again immersed in plot-within-plots, while missing Oberon seemingly directs matters, while avoiding a head-on-collision with the Courts of Chaos, on the other end of the spectrum of the Shadows.

The novel opens with Corwin exploring the blood-stained destroyed Pattern with his brother Random, and his old enemy-turned-friend Ganelon.  Ganelon is another name borrowed from legend: history marks him as as the betrayer of Charlemagne to the Muslims in 9th century France. In this series, he is the betrayer of Corwin, and exiled for misdeeds against Avalon, where Corwin ruled.

I barely remember a thing from the novel, and I read it less than two weeks ago: this speaks not well for its staying power. I am glancing through each chapter to see the memorable touches, and find, well, hardly anything at all. The Pattern must be repaired. We are finally honing in on the series villain. There is a surprise relative (Or two. Or three). Random’s wife Vialle is a nice touch, and a pleasant counterpoint to Corwin’s scheming sisters. She seems to know the truth in the same way literature almost always paints blind seers.

In truth, I find myself increasingly annoyed with Zelazny’s Amber series. So far, it’s obvious it would have held together better as a single volume; each book begins precisely where the previous novel ended. The main character, Corwin, is nothing but a placeholder that offers very little of interest, except to move an entertaining what-if scenario that smacks of Platonism. If you want to really see this hypothesis handled well, I’d propose reading Neal Stephenson’s Anathem.

Sorry folks. Really. I’m trying to like these novels but find precious little to remember so far, much less enjoy.

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