What a sad, thin little book The Courts of Chaos turned out to be. Roger Zelazny’s fifth installment in the Chronicles of Amber weighs in at a barely-a-novella 142 pages (in my Avon mass market paperback edition). Our hero Corwin spends about 100 pages running through a veritable Through The Looking Glass hellride to the Courts of Chaos, to stop the villain from doing an Insane Bad Guy thing. I won’t ruin it for anybody by spoiling the name of this Insane Bad Guy; suffice it to say that he’s not very nice, and is chasing and harassing Corwin every step of the way.
Corwin encounters leprechauns, a talking tree named Ygg, and an obnoxious bird called Hugi (with whom he has an extended dialog about the nature and futility of reality). I’ll give Zelazny this much: he’s not afraid to borrow from Western European lore, or to twist the neck off a bird. Yggdrasil and Huginn/Muninn are pulled directly from the Icelandic sagas.
Corwin no longer wants to be king. He realizes that after we have been stuck with the chain-smoking meathead for four and a half books. Eric’s death, he has very little desire to occupy the throne, despite his love for Amber. He must repair the Pattern, and stop The Insane Bad Guy. The Unicorn (who happens to be his Grandmother–don’t ask. Really.) will crown the new monarch. I’ll let the reader guess which of the obnoxious siblings will get the crown.
I make light of the series probably because after five books, Amber had no effect on my psyche. Like most adventures, I rooted for the good guy, and wondered at the motives of the bad guy. I sort of gagged a bit at the idea of Dworkin having Unicorn sex (insert appropriate joke about “good piece of ass” here).
I wanted the five Corwin novels to work: really, I did. Of them all, I found myself wishing they were better with every passing book. The writing was good; the ideas were fair, but poorly executed. The characters were weak at best, and abhorrent at worst. I am still hoping for the mystique, but I never caught it. The books are simply not on a par with Bujold, or LeGuin or McCaffrey; certainly not as strong as Herbert, Heinlein or Card. What was Zelazny doing? He must have had something better up his sleeve, or maybe (yuk yuk) frozen in Amber somewhere.