Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber: Subtle Architecture of Treason

This is our post for Witch Week 2021: Treason and Plot, organized by the inestimable Chris of Calmgrove and Lizzie of Lizzie Ross. Witch Week is a yearly event happening in the last week of October, in tribute to Diana Wynne Jones’s third Chrestomanci book focusing on all things fantastical. This year, however, instead of concentrating on Halloween and thereabouts, we’re taking a closer look at the history of the Guy Fawkes’ gunpowder plot, the British tradition of Bonfire Night, and various treasonous activities causing rot in states, real and imagined.

We chose Roger Zelazny’s The Chronicles of Amber as our topic for this year’s Witch Week for two reasons: first, Zelazny’s untimely death in 1996 caused a curious silence around his works, so that he’s no longer a well-known author and his novels have been slowly sliding into oblivion in recent years. He remains an author’s author, mentioned here and there by the new generations as a source of inspiration, but in our opinion he deserves wider recognition. Secondly, The Chronicles of Amber, a series of ten books that can safely be classified as fantasy, though discussions can be had whether it’s epic or urban, or something else altogether, is a wondrously complex latticework of betrayal, double dealing, plots within plots, lethal mysteries and hard-bitten protagonists somewhere between noir detectives and medieval knights.

Ola: Well, there’s a third reason. Both Piotrek and I love Amber, and needed little excuse to return to this fantastic world ;). Zelazny’s a great author in general, though uneven at times. But his best works are among the best the genre has to offer, and even his mediocre ones boast of unique imagination, propensity for audacious literary experimentation, and sensitivity to language that’s at once precious and highly uncommon. Incidentally, a novel perfect for a Halloween reading, and also containing a lot of treason, backstabbing, and plots to conquer the world, is his A Night in the Lonesome October.

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Stephen Fry, Troy (2021)

Author: Stephen Fry

Title: Troy

Format: E-book

Pages: 432

Series: Stephen Fry’s Great Mythology #3

Hmmm, where should I start this review?

I really like and admire Stephen Fry, his dry humor and his wonderful acting abilities. The audiobooks narrated by him are among the best I ever listened to. His love for Greek mythology is widely known, and he certainly has a respectable amount of knowledge about it. Moreover, he has the uncanny ability to make it accessible and relatable to a modern, not classically educated reader.

And herein lies the problem ;). I gradually discover (yeah, I can be a slow learner ;)) that I do not like retellings of the mythologies I love. Nope. Just nope. I catch myself questioning the author’s decisions about including or omitting stuff, about structuring the narrative, and so on. Worse, I disagree with interpretation ;). So really, I don’t know why I’m even doing this to myself! But when I noticed Fry’s Troy on NG, I just had to check it out to see if it would be a good book for younger readers – and for me 😉

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Frank Herbert, Dune (1965)

Author: Frank Herbert

Title: Dune

Format: Paperback

Pages: 528

Series: Dune #1

Everything’s been written about Dune many times over, so forgive me if my review will be somewhat off beat this time. I don’t feel the need to detail the plot or the worldbuilding. 

Dune is unequivocally a masterwork of SF, a SF at its best, openly acknowledging its ties to myths and the belief in universal truths of human cognition. But Dune also reaches way beyond SF, having become one of the few absolutely crucial works of fiction of the 20th century. And yet, and yet, while I admire it with passion, it’s a book I cannot love. It leaves me cold and uncaring. It leaves me wanting to pick it apart, and dirty my hands in its bloody insides, and emerge holding the offending element in my palms, triumphant in finding what fault exactly makes me less than welcoming toward it.

But the truth is, I suspect I know it already.

Nice opening, huh? So now I’m going to subvert your expectations, and launch into a lengthy consideration of the socio-ecological ramifications of Herbert’s universe. Kidding!

Though not entirely.

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Asher on Holidays

This one’s for Will, who came up with the brilliant idea of combining the themes of our 2020 most popular/most liked posts: my review of Neal Asher’s The Line of Polity and Piotrek’s report from his Sicilian Vacation. So I took my trusty Asher with me, and here we are :D. Don’t worry, I will write a proper review of The Technician in due time 😉

Asher’s book and a glass of white wine at the sunset by the lake Rerewhakaaitu… A glorious combination 😀

The lake above lies near a still active volcano; its shores are made of pumice and sand, and the waters cover chunks of obsidian. Bhind us by the lake is Tarawera – the volcano responsible for the destruction of a natural wonder called Pink and White Terraces in the late 19th century. I suspect the obsidian and pumice present in the lake might be remnants of that historical eruption, which dramatically altered the entire landscape around the volcano.

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Madeline Miller, Circe (2018)

Author: Madeline Miller

Title: Circe

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 393

Series: –

Madeline Miller, of The Song of Achilles fame, decided to return to tried and true formula of retelling, embellishing and altering Greek myths to suit modern audiences. Armed with sharply evocative, melancholy writing style and selective empathy, Miller chose to tackle the story of Circe, daughter of Helios, one of the very few witches of Greek mythology, and one famous mostly for her encounter with wily Odysseus.

One thing I cannot deny this book is its ambition. It takes a lot of ambition, and plenty of guts, to take a third-rate character and from their point of view present – or rather rewrite – a huge portion of Greek mythology, its gods and its heroes. It’s a shrewd move, for who can say what Circe was really like? We know her only from the words of others – as a sorceress, a mistress of manipulation and transformation, and a cynical enemy of men, who in time is tamed by an even greater schemer, the cunning legendary trickster Odysseus. She is the maker of Scylla, the six-headed man-eating monster. She is the sister of Pasifae, who gave birth to the terrible Minotaur. As Helios’s daughter, she is counted among the Titans; as Perse’s daughter, she is often demoted to nymphs. Circe is a rare creature; only few in Greek mythology are known for magic as not an innate limited power but something akin to alchemy: dabbling in potions and herbs, speaking incantations, waving wands. Mythological Circe is proud and powerful; an absolute ruler on her island, served by a host of dryads and naiads.

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