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Originally posted at FanLit.
The Courts of Chaos is the very short last installment of the CORWIN CYCLE of THE CHRONICLES OF AMBER and the fifth volume of the entire series. If you haven’t read the previous books, you’ve got no business here — go away. I don’t want to ruin it for you. Go read the first book, Nine Princes in Amber, and continue on from there.
OK. So Oberon is back and we learn that he’s been manipulating events all along. Now he’s on the throne, which is fine with Corwin because after Eric’s death he’s decided he doesn’t want to sit there anyway. Corwin’s concern is with repairing the pattern that Brand destroyed when he let the forces of Chaos into Amber. To heal the land, someone must sacrifice himself and Corwin is willing, but Oberon insists on making the decisions. He wants Corwin to take the Jewel of Judgment through Shadow so it will be ready to help them during the battle with Chaos. Meanwhile, Oberon intends to fix the pattern himself.
Corwin’s psychedelic hellride through Shadow is long and sometimes tedious as Corwin vividly describes the surreal landscape, reminisces about the past, and becomes introspective as he ponders how he, and his relationship with his family members, has changed. After the constant plot twists in the last few books, some readers may be glad for the leisurely pace, but I eventually became bored with metallic trees and zebra-stripe skies. Short but welcome action segments occur when Corwin encounters murderous leprechauns, a gallant knight, a seductive woman, a talking tree, a philosophical raven, and a treacherous jackal. When he finally reaches the Courts of Chaos, the last battle with a nebulous enemy ensues. Compared to all that’s gone on before, these final scenes are a bit anticlimactic and even start to feel like a bad soap opera when the unicorn shows up to crown the next ruler and a sibling who’s supposed to be dead reappears.
I didn’t enjoy The Courts of Chaos as much as I enjoyed the earlier AMBER novels, mainly because of the long surreal hellride, but it’s a short book that concludes Corwin’s story, so it’s kind of a must-read for anyone who’s read this far in this immensely popular old SFF series. As with previous AMBER novels, Roger Zelazny throws several literary and mythological allusions into this installment. The next five AMBER books make up the MERLIN CYCLE which is narrated by Corwin’s son Merlin. I read them many years ago and only recall that they weren’t as good as the CORWIN CYCLE. I’m not sure if I’ll read them again, though I probably will if I see them on sale at Audible. These have been very nice productions.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
"Sometimes it's damned hard to tell the dancer from the dance."
- Roger Zelazny, Coruts of Chaos
So, this isn't the bottom of the first five books in the 'Chronicles of Amber'. Actually, of the five books that make up the Corwin cycle (Books 1-5), it might be my favorite (so 3.5 ✷?). I haven't been impressed by the five enough to rush soon into the Merlin cycle (Books 6-10). I'll probably get there. I own all ten (The Great Book of Amber), but other books from other favorite authors remain unread and unless there is a sign, symbol, or signal somewhere that suggest that these later books will suddenly jump higher in my esteem, I'm finished for 2017 with Zelazny.
The Courts of Chaos did produce a couple items I did enjoy, sort of:
1. A Zen, futilitarianst crow saying such things as: "You see, we are hatched and we drift on the surface of events. Sometimes, we feel like we actually influence things, and this gives rise to striving. This is a big mistake, because it creates desires and builds up a false ego when just being should be enough." Da FA?
2. Courtly dancers, treading to the slow measures of invisible musicians, that appear to be an allusion to the painting Dance to the Music of Time by Nicolas Poussin: "They dance to celebrate your passage. They are not mortals but the spirits of Time. They began this foolish show when you entered the valley." Um, OK?
Anyway, the things I just gently mocked above are also probably WHY I give this an extra 1/2 ✷. That might make sense, or may not. I'm not going to strive to hard to explain.
7 of 10 people found this review helpful
Story – 5/5
A great ending to the Corwin cycle of books. A very imaginative, complex and absorbing world was created here, and is not like anything I have come across before. This book is action packed, fast paced and full of brilliant conclusions to the overall story arc of saving Amber.
It was enough of an ending for me not to rush into the latter 5 books in the series (which are based on Corwin’s son; Merlin), but I will definitely be returning to complete the series very soon.
The stories may seem very short, and therefore not worth the credits, but I personally found them worth it. You will probably make your own decision on it, but if you are on the fence like I was, give the first one a try – you can always return it if you didn’t feel it was worth it.
Performance – 5/5
These are an extremely well narrated series of books, and you can tell a lot of effort has gone into it to create the best experience for the listener. The first person voice suited Corwin’s character perfectly and the other characters all had distinctive and suitably acted voices too. Alessandro’s fast reading style added to the pace and excitement of the story very nicely.
Overall – 5/5
I can only reiterate my review of Nine Princes in Amber. This is part of a quintology and, I feel, needs to be read or heard as one book as the story arc starts with Book 1 and finishes with Book 5. I read this book and also the subsequent four books years ago and was totally enthralled by them. I've been waiting a long time to get them on audio. The story is still brilliant but feel the performance could be improved upon. Alessandro Juliani does a good job but I feel audio books would really benefit from having a narrator and a different actors for the different characters. There is a limit to what one person can do by way of changing voices and it is sometimes difficult for a male to replicate a female voice and vice versa. However, having said the above, I really enjoyed the experience of Nine Princes in Amber and the subsequent four books of the quintology in audio.