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The Chronicles of Amber - Volumes I & II ... Sign of the Unicorn

Updated on October 29, 2010

Roger Zelazny

Roger Zelazny (May 13, 1937 – June 14, 1995) won 6 Hugos (out of 14 nominations) and 3 Nebulas (also out of 14 nominations) in the course of his career as a Science Fiction and Fantasy Author and has also won many other major awards in the SF field.

Several of his novels and short stories are considered landmarks, including Lord of Light, Creatures of Light and Darkness, "Home is the Hangman," and "A Rose for Ecclesiastes."

The 10-volume Chronicles of Amber (the first 5 of which are discussed in this article) is regarded as a classic fantasy series. For the last 10 years of his life, Zelazny lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Brief Outline

Written by Roger Zelazny in the 70's the Chronicles of Amber is an epic fantasy series. Its one of the ones that survives the test of time (I know - I've re-read it several times over the years now and each time I find something new to enjoy) and only grows better as your perspective changes.

Without a doubt the Chronicles have had an impact on other Fantasy writings by other authors and it is only perhaps when you read the series again with this in mind that you will see where the correlations are.

You see - Amber is the one true world and city. It casts a thousand reflections (shadows) and all other worlds (including our own) are simply one of its reflections. All roads lead to Amber and on this world the sons of Oberon are the rulers and lords - they control Shadow and can navigate its complexities picking and choosing worlds as they go.

Sign of the Unicorn (1975)

Starting immediately after the battle at the end of The Guns of Avalon, Corwin is now the de-facto ruler of Amber with the death of Eric.  However something is still not right in paradise by any means.

Corwin returns to Castle Amber with the body of one of the creatures that he, Flora and Random had battled in book 1 - Nine Princes in Amber.  This creature had killed Caine (one of Corwins brothers) and the circumstances of his death served to point the finger to Corwin.  As these creatures had been pursuing Random earlier, Corwin summons him to explain his involvement and knowledge of how they came into being.

Random had been enjoying life out in a shadow, Texorami, that he had selected/created but he was contacted by Brand (another brother) pleading for help and assistance.  Random determining that in saving Brand he might be able in some way to influence the succession that was underway in Amber and somehow throw a crimp into the plans of Eric set out across Shadow to rescue him.

Based on the information that Brand had provided, Random is able to arrive at the Shadow that is containing Brand.  This is a very strange and weird place where the land is lit without a sun and where boulders orbit each other in complicated patterns. He is able to find the tower in which Brand is imprisoned but in a battle with the guardian - a transparent, glass, prismatic, dragon-like creature - he is defeated.  As he is making his escape he is pursued by creatures similar to those that had attacked Corwin, Flora and him on Earth and also that had killed Caine.  In an effort to escape or get help, he makes his way to the Earth Shadow containing Corwin and Flora and this is when he contacts Corwin and starts the ball rolling in Book 1.

Corwin decides that he needs to "attune" himself to the Jewel of Judgment and does so following the instructions left to him by Eric.  By walking the Pattern and projecting himself into the Jewel, Corwin is able to utilize its abilities even without knowing all that it (and he) is capable of.

Corwin then arranges a family meeting, allowing Random to tell his story again.  Although the rest of the family do not entirely believe him they agree to make a combined attempt to rescue Brand counting on the fact that their combined will and strength will be strong enough to break through whatever barrier is in place between them.  With this combined effort they are able to reach through the trumps and recover Brand but as he is passed through the trumps someone in the family stabs him.  One of the family is a traitor - not only for initially imprisoning Brand, but potentially disposing of Oberon and now stabbing Brand again - not to mention the possible implication of Corwin himself in the murder of Caine!

Gerard pushes the others aside and states that he will ensure that Brand recovers and starts to tend to his wounds while the rest of the family considers who amongst them could be the traitor and what that persons intentions are.  Eventually they all set out to their rooms but Corwin is attacked by someone in the dark and it is only through his "attunement" to the Jewel that he is able to escape a fatal wound.

Corwin teleports himself directly to his old home on Earth without walking through the intervening shadows due to the powers of the Jewel.  While he is safe here, he is still wounded badly and realizes that he needs to hide the Jewel in a safe place before it either kills him (by draining his life force - an unfortunate side affect of the Jewel) or whoever stabs him comes to get it.  Corwin hides the Jewel in the houses' compost heap and heads for the main road where he is picked up by Bill Roth, a neighbor lawyer who recognizes him as Carl Corey, the name Corwin had used in the past to pass for a human. In hospital, he learns that his car accident happened during his escape from a mental asylum, where he had been committed by a Dr. Hillary B. Rand by his brother Brand on Corey. He is contacted via Trump by Random, who returns him to Amber, saying that Brand has woken up and wishes to speak to him.

Brand speaks to Corwin and admits that he is a traitor to the throne and that Brand, Bleys and Fiona had worked to remove Oberon from the throne.  He also admits that he has a part to play in the Black Road and the creatures that are attacking from/through it but states that he has had a change of heart while Bleys and Fiona are still working for the overthrow of the natural order. 

Corwin still doesn't trust Brand and his renewed loyalty so sets out to Tir-na Nog'th, the mysterious, moonlit Amber-in-the-sky where he hopes to gain insight into the situation. With Random and Ganelon watching him from mount Kolvir, he ascends to Tir-na Nog'th, and in the throne room sees Dara as queen, flanked by Benedict wearing a metallic arm. Benedict and Corwin fight in this ghostly realm but Corwin is able to cut of Benedict's metallic arm and is saved by Random.  The metallic arm somehow transfers back from this realm along with Corwin also.

Corwin, Ganelon and Random set off back to Amber but somehow they are transported through Shadow to another place.  This should be impossible this close to Amber, but they find themselves in an enlarged version of the Grove of the Unicorn which is being guarded by a chained up watch dragon.  Here they see the Unicorn itself which takes them to another pattern and they realize that something that they thought they knew all this time was actually incorrect. 

With a shock, Corwin and Ganelon realize that this is the true, Primal Pattern, of which the one in Amber is but the first shadow.

Correlations to other Fantasy Series - The Number of the Beast

Heinlein wrote a lot of books and series over the years. The thing that caught my attention in this book and the Chronicles though is the bad guys ... Heinlein's "Black Hats" who were trying to take over all the universes and fighting our main hero's throughout this book seemed to me to be the same as the villains described early on in the Chronicles (Book 1 - Nine Princes in Amber & later again in Book 3 - Sign of the Unicorn). The spurs on the back of the hands. The strength and general appearance all seemed to be very similar and I suspect that in Heinlein's case this was deliberate vs. subconscious

Correlations to other Fantasy Series - The Wheel of Time

Click edit above to add content to this empty capsule.

Perhaps the most obvious linkage is between The Chronicles of Amber and The Wheel of Time. I don't know if Robert Jordan intended for these similarities or if it was something that was perhaps just in his subconscious as he was writing the series but reading through both books some of the things that jump out at you are:

  • Shadow - a huge part of The Chronicles is the ability that the main protagonists have of "walking through Shadow". Basically a way of exploring different and alternate realities that are present and viewable ... a theme explored in many other titles it is very much evident in The Wheel of Time itself. The whole concept of being able to "walk through shadow" is something that is utilized to great extent by the half-men (a Myrddraal) of the Wheel of Time series. In addition the idea of multiple alternate worlds where only some small things are different is explored several times in the Wheel of Time also - perhaps most notably in the 2nd book (The Great Hunt) where Rand, Loial and Hurin are separated from the Shienaran party and transported to an alternate world via a portal stone, a world similar to their own but where the land appears deserted and distorted.
  • Pattern - "The wheel weaves as the wheel wills"... a quote often used in the Wheel of Time series it is most similar to the Pattern in the Chronicles of Amber. Here an Amberite can gain power over shadow by traveling through/over/past the Pattern ... in fact reflections or shadows of the pattern have a power in itself and it was only through the Pattern that Corwin was restored to his memories. Rand also traveled a pattern of sorts in book 4 of the Wheel of Time (The Shadow Rising) - when he walks through the crystal garden that is the proving ground for Aiel chiefs. He relives portions of the lives of various Aiel before and just after the Breaking.


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    • My SciFi Life profile imageAUTHOR

      My SciFi Life 

      6 years ago from London, UK

      100% - that's a great series. I'm actually planning on re-reading it shortly as its very different from your regular run of the mill series. Have you read both trilogies?

    • Corwinblade profile image


      6 years ago from The edge looking down at the winding path below, pondering the flow of reality.

      Yeah, my dogs mane is actually Corey but we named him from the Amber series. Corwinblade is a character of mine from World of Warcraft, and most of my profiles on various sites are of the smae Username. BTW do you like Steven R Donaldson's Thomas Covenant Series

    • My SciFi Life profile imageAUTHOR

      My SciFi Life 

      6 years ago from London, UK

      Hi thanks for reading and commenting! Is the name Corwin from Amber itself?

    • Corwinblade profile image


      6 years ago from The edge looking down at the winding path below, pondering the flow of reality.

      This is my absolute favorite set of books on Earth! I will definitly follow this hub Zelazny is my hero, he has taking me to ounbelivable worlds!


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