The Amber cycle, Zelazny’s magnus opus. It’s the old story of chaos versus order, combined with a hefty dose of parallel/alternate worldlines. Zelazny was a master when it came to mixing seemingly disparate elements of fantasy and science fiction into a coherent whole. While some people prefer his more serious stuff, like Lord of Light, I do not. The Amber chronicles have a special place in my heart, my gateway to Zelazny’s work in general. Even after reading them a second time now, years later, they haven’t lost their appeal to me. Well, the first five books that chronicle Corwin’s adventures.
The later books that chronicle the adventures of his son, Merlin, are of lesser quality. The writing is superb as always, but the plotting leaves something to be desired. Like the Corwin chronicles there’s a cornucopia of fantastic ideas, but what’s missing is the grand concept, the metaplot that connects all these ideas into something wholly. It’s just a rehash of the adventures of Corwin with bigger magic but less coherence, as if Zelazny himself wasn’t sure where he was going with it, introducing new plot elements and story twists until it looked like a mess. At the end it’s just the old chaos versus order plot again. Which is a disappointment, since Corwin himself created a third pattern at the end of his adventures, that could have changed the duality of the chaos versus order conflict and created something much more complex. Instead you get more of the same.
But the first five books are great, some of the best fantasy I’ve ever read, more imaginative and inventive than most of the recent stuff about which has been said to have reinvented fantasy.