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Roger Zelazny's The Dawn of Amber
John Gregory Betancourt
ibooks, inc., Simon & Schuster, 319 pages

Scott Grimando
Roger Zelazny's The Dawn of Amber
John Gregory Betancourt
John Gregory Betancourt was born in Missouri in 1963. He sold his first short story professionally at 16 ("Vernon's Dragon," in 100 Great Fantasy Short-Short Stories, edited by Isaac Asimov et al.) and his first novel at 19 (The Blind Archer, published by Avon Books). In college he became an assistant editor for Amazing Stories magazine, then co-editor and publisher of a revival of Weird Tales. He also worked on a freelance basis for such publishers as Avon Books, Signet Books (now part of Penguin USA), Tor Books, Bluejay Books and Berkley Books. His novels include Johnny Zed, Rememory, and Rogue Pirate. With his wife Kim, he runs his own small publishing company, Wildside Press.

John Gregory Betancourt Website
ISFDB Bibliography: John Gregory Betancourt
SF Site Excerpt: Roger Zelazny's The Dawn of Amber
SF Site Review: Double Helix: Infection
Wildside: A Science Fiction Resource

Roger Zelazny
During his career, Roger Zelazny won 6 Hugos and 3 Nebulas as well as 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 is regarded as a classic fantasy series. For the last 10 years of his life, Zelazny lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He died in 1995.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Nebula Awards 3
SF Site Review: The Chronicles of Amber
SF Site Review: Lord of Light
SF Site Review: Donnerjack
Roger Zelazny Tribute Site
Roger Zelazny Tribute Site
Roger Zelazny Tribute Site
Roger Zelazny Obituary
Who's Who in Amber

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Alma A. Hromic

According to the press release, The Dawn of Amber trilogy will

"...expand the Amber universe and answer the important questions left open, including how Amber was created,, by whom, and why... Finally, the fans of the series will understand why it was necessary to create Amber, how Chaos and Amber came to be at war, and the true nature of the universal sentient forces that Amber and Chaos represent."
Amber has been a cherished and treasured part of my own literary universe for nearly thirty years. Amber was part of the reason why I first installed the late great Roger Zelazny in my own private literary pantheon. I think I can safely assume myself to be one of the 'fans of the series' alluded to in the press release. And oh, this fan wishes that Amber had been left undisturbed.

The title on the book's cover is more than just Dawn of Amber -- in letters almost as large as the title itself the book announces that it is Roger Zelazny's Dawn of Amber, with the name of the real author, John Gregory Betancourt, tucked away at the bottom. He dedicates this book to "Roger Zelazny... the true Lord of Amber". The man who truly built the castle that Betancourt then sets out to undermine.

The novel chronicles the adventures of Oberon, whom we know from Zelazny's books to have been a much-married and very fecund King of Amber. The story begins with one my own personal Literary Cardinal Sins -- the Dream Sequence. This is a fantasy -- more, it is a fantasy rooted in Zelazny, and Zelazny's imagination could be extremely strange. In other words, I took the beginning of the novel to be the beginning of the story. There is little that annoys me more in a novel than the "And then I woke up" ending to a particularly vivid piece of literary bravura, which is exactly what Betancourt delivers.

And it went downhill from there. The characters have motivations that a light breeze would blow away or shred into ribbons. In the space of a few pages, Oberon passes from a sudden rage of having been "abandoned" by Dworkin (although Dworkin appeared not to have any particularly overwhelming connection to the young Oberon, making the use of that word rather strong under the circumstances) to a state where " spite of everything -- or perhaps because of it -- my long-seated anger and hurt and resentment at having been abandoned began to melt away. I trusted him, I realized, in some deep way I could not really understand."

In between these two extremes Oberon takes a long hard look at Dworkin's "strange clothing, his long absence, his swordsmanship, his ability to keep track [of me]". -- and reaches the conclusion that Dworkin must be a spy.

But a spy that he trusted at some deep level, nonetheless.

The rest of the book is spent carefully setting up Oberon's half-brother Locke as an antagonist ("You and Locke will be at odds... and you will win," Oberon is told at one point) and then Locke-as-villain melts away completely, on both the physical and psychological plane.

At the level of basic writing style, the book is full of unintentionally amusing dialogue (for instance: "Aha!" he said) or description ("[the carriage] ...had been cleaned so thoroughly, not a smudge remained to tell of any previous passengers." -- Sherlock Holmes with his magnifying glass somehow comes to mind; is it not conceivable that the previous passengers, if any, might not have left any incriminating stains behind?) and passages that are so obviously padding that a good editor should have red-flagged them long before they even made the proofs. At one point, Luke Skywalker-like, Oberon confronts Dworkin with, "Why didn't you tell me? I had a right to know you were my father!"

At the level of story, the novel breaks a few basic rules of the Amber I know and love -- when Oberon mutters something about preferring one color over another while watching his artist half-brother paint a Trump, he is informed that "...the colors don't really matter, it's the person and how the image is drawn." In fact, colors do matter -- every member of the Amber family had their own colors in Zelazny's original novels, and they were important to the point of being instant identifiers of the character being described. There is need for conflict, so conflict is manufactured -- and Dworkin is described as "weak", a tired old man out of his element who "...wasn't meant for war". The Dworkin of Zelazny's books might have been slightly insane, but he was not weak, and it is not only those who swing a sword who fight and win wars, something that Betancourt conveniently decides to ignore in his assessment. Oberon's introduction to the family is a weak replay of Corwin's meeting his family, Oberon's descendants, in the original Amber books. It would have been far more original if Betancourt had chosen to make this family the model of the family who sticks together, rather than attempting to imitate Zelazny's original and highly dysfunctional Amber siblings. Some of Oberon's siblings are palimpsests of his later offspring -- Freda is a thinly disguised Flora, Blaise is Fiona, Locke (although he is in possession of both his arms) is a shadow of Benedict.

It's all flat -- it's like hearing Alice, back in Wonderland: "You are all a pack of cards!" In fact, Betancourt himself has put a finger on what is lacking in this book. Dworkin describes the talents of his son and fellow Trump-artist, Aber, thus:

"Aber doesn't understand why the trumps work. He doesn't want to understand. Instead, he slavishly copies my own early efforts, when I painted a flat representation of the Logrus as part of the card itself, behind the image. It helped me concentrate. The Logrus does not actually need to be part of the card... but it does need to be foremost in the artist's mind as he creates."
There is a flat representation of Zelazny's Amber behind the image of Betancourt's novel. He is no Dworkin, creating his own original Trumps, his own Pattern in the foremost of his mind -- he is digging up the bones of Amber and making a creature that walks and talks but has no true spark of life. If this was how Amber was born, perhaps the fans didn't need to know it after all.

Copyright © 2002 Alma A. Hromic

Alma A. Hromic, addicted (in random order) to coffee, chocolate and books, has a constant and chronic problem of "too many books, not enough bookshelves". When not collecting more books and avidly reading them (with a cup of coffee at hand), she keeps busy writing her own. Her latest fantasy work, a two-volume series entitled Changer of Days, was published by HarperCollins.

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