Where to begin?
All shadows flow from Amber. This we have known since the first book, Nine Princes in Amber. The Pattern, the great seal of magic, is the rite of the princes to walk. But the end of the last book, Sign of the Unicorn, left us with Random, Ganelon, and Corwin on the brink of a revelation that will change “the game” forever.
The Hand of Oberon picks up directly after that revelation, and doesn’t let go until its wicked conclusion. Part of me is so eager to move on to the next book that I seriously debated not writing a review at all. The novel contains everything that I love about literature like this: intrigue, plot twists, revelations, character growth, timely recaps, and complicated puzzles. Reading The Hand of Oberon was much like reading Sherlock Holmes––except Corwin doesn’t have the benefit of anyone but Moriarty to light the path.
Zelazny packs a powerful, gripping narrative into a short, 200-page read, casting just enough doubt in every scene that you can’t help but question everything that is said; can’t help but be drawn into the conflict and balance the stakes as carefully as a juggler tossing knives. Just when I started to feel comfortable that I knew the direction the pieces were taking, another character would come along and flip the table, scattering them all about again. Rather than feeling like the author was simply playing with me, these twists and turns were exciting, and drew me into the narrative even further.
The main characters this time around remain some of the old favorites: Corwin, Random, Benedict, Ganelon… Fiona and Brand play heavily into the plots, as well as a brief interlude with the mentally-unstable gnome Dworkin.
Throughout the narrative, we begin to see growth in characters, changes in the way they think and consider each other. Of course, given all the tiny little misdirections, I have my suspicions about which changes for the better are to be believed. But this is the fun of the series, a race to figure it out before Corwin, or before any of the others in the story have a chance to tell you.
In addition, the writing continually grows more and more refined, more precise––most notably I can feel the cleverness of phrase, and delight in the work, over the first book, in which the voice of the material was more straightforward and bland. The Hand of Oberon felt tight and confident, Zelazny’s skill in the story he weaves abundantly clear. I highly recommend this one, even though I remain ambivalent to the second book.
Some of my favorite lines:
‘It was my turn to be silent while a family of moments crossed my path, single file, from the left, sticking their tongues out at me.’
‘Candles flickered, and the faded stag who had been dying for centuries on the tapestry to my right looked back on faded dogs who had been pursuing him for approximately as long. Sometimes my sympathies are with the stag; usually though, I am all dog. Have to have the thing restored one of these days.’
(After a scene in which one brother admits he might have killed Corwin if he hadn’t been standing on his favorite rug):
‘I went on out and closed the door, my silent regards to the rug.’
‘And what did I want? A chance to find out what was right and a chance to act on it! I laughed. Who is ever granted the first, let alone the second of these?’
(While walking the pattern):
‘There came again that familiar sense of timelessness, as though this was all I had ever done, all I would ever do.’
‘It is just that I never trust anyone if there is an alternative.’
(A scene between Ganelon and Corwin):
Corwin: “Hold on a minute!”
Ganelon: “Hold on, hell! You imported a master strategist, you’d better listen to what he has to say.”