The Trumps of Doom is the sixth novel in Zelazny’s beloved Amber series of fantasy novels. The first quintet of short books is narrated by Corwyn, a man who wakes up with amnesia in 20th century America. As Corwyn begins to explore his lost past, he discovers that he is from the royal family of Amber, a majestic city that is the true world – Earth is only a shadow. The series begins with a noir feel – Corwyn is tough, street smart, and morally flexible and he moves through a world of femme fatales and seedy lowlifes. By the end, it’s sword and sorcery, as Corwyn gathers armies, clobbers demons, and goes on spirit quests to fight mystical plots and contest the throne of Amber. The genre shifts dramatically, but Corwyn is always hyper-macho.
This novel starts a new quintet, and resets the table with a new narrator: Merlin. Merlin has his own connections to Amber (which I won’t get into too much, so as not to spoil the earlier books), but at the novel’s beginning he’s living on our Earth, working for an IT company, and someone is trying to kill him. As he attempts to find the would-be assassin, he uncovers an underground of sorcery based on the magic of Amber, and learns that many of his friends know more about his origins than seems possible. Eventually, he journeys back to Amber to learn more about what’s happening, and ends up in the same colossal and cosmic conflicts that always occur at the climax of these novels.
Zelazny’s hitting on a lot of the same themes here that we’ve seen him take on before: tough guy anti-heroes with connections to mythical figures (Earth mythology is an echo of the “real” princes and princesses of Amber) fighting brutal-but-cosmic battles. The female characters are marginal (the princesses of Amber scheme, but the princes are the true center of the conflicts). The ever-escalating stakes and fuzzy nature of “reality” get old after a while, and the series as a whole felt a bit repetitive to me. They are fun though, and I especially like these first books that spend a lot of time on Earth and introduce a lot of mysteries. After six books, however, I think I’m finished with the series, despite this entry ending on a cliffhanger.