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The Dawn of Amber

Reviewed: February 3, 2003
By: John Gregory Betancourt
Publisher: ibooks
299 Pages, $36.50

“It was starting to end, after what seemed most of eternity to me.” Those are the opening words of Roger Zelazny’s classic Nine Princes in Amber, the first of five volumes dealing with the adventures of Corwin, exiled prince of that realm. It took him 15 years to get the last of the books written and each of them ended with a bloody great cliffhanger, so it seemed like longer.

The next set of five, featuring the adventures of Merlin, son of Corwin, came about ten years later and were rather faster appearing.

Zelazny died a few years ago. There has already been a tribute anthology of short stories written in his style and using his themes. Now there is a new Amber novel, authorized by the Zelazny estate and written by Betancourt.

He has wisely chosen not to extend the story which has been told already, but to delve into some of the unanswered questions about the past of this strange family of more than human magic users.

This is the tale of Oberon, who will eventually become the father of Corwin. Little known to Oberon, he is the son of a magician and inventor named Dworkin, who is an outcast from the Courts of Chaos. Obere has only known Dworkin as a friendly uncle and mentor. He has lived all his life in the land of Ilerium and might have continued there had not the land come under attack by legions of hell creatures seemingly bent on nothing but destruction.

It is from this mess that Dworkin comes to rescue him, spiriting him off on such a carriage ride as he has never seen before to a city, and an entire world, that had never entered his imagination. Here he learns that he is a member of a family which possesses the ability to walk through what we would call dimensions, to find anyplace or time they can imagine in the lands they call the shadows.

Betancourt has taken on a difficult job here. When Zelazny first wrote of these things the idea was fresh and new. Most of the readers of The Dawn of Amber will be fans of the series, and will know more about the situation than Obere does.

So Betancourt has taken us back before the creation of Amber as we have come to know it, to the origins of Oberon’s fractious line and the beginning of the estrangement between Amber and the Courts of Chaos.

We drop into the story in the midst of a war. Someone has raised a massive army of shadow demons - hell creatures - and aimed them at the shadow earth on which Dworkin and his own brood have taken shelter. They had been trying to pick them off one by one (hence the attack on Ilerium) but now that they are in one place, in the city called Juniper, the attackers are concentrating their efforts. Not only that, but they’ve cooked up some sort of spell which has cut Obere’s family off from the power (the Logrus) that they channel to move from world to world.

It would seem there is no escape and no surviving, but that would be reckoning without some special abilities possessed only by Oberon. He cannot channel the abilities of his sire and siblings, but he has something else he can do.

Will it be their salvation. In the true spirit of the Amber series, the book ends on the edge of a cliff. Oh well. At least it’s only supposed to be a trilogy this time.

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