With that said, this collection is worth a read, so long as you don’t mind a little frustration. Zelazny spins some damn good tales, even if he can’t actually write a book. There are actually two story arcs in here: the first follows Corwin, a man who wakes up in a mental hospital with no memory. He bluffs his way out and as events unfold it turns out he’s a prince of Amber – where Amber is the real center of the universe, and every other reality (including Earth as we know it) is a Shadow. There are some really entertaining ideas here… I wish I’d consumed these books as a kid, because while it would have been a challenge, my imagination would have had a field day. Anyway, we follow Corwin through the various power struggles and intrigue involved in the throne’s succession. This comprises the first 5 (or 6?) books in the compilation.
The second arc follows a character named Merlin (whose history I won’t reveal as it rather involves some major plot points). Come to think of it I can’t really describe much about Merlin’s arc at all without giving a lot away. So I suppose I’ll just suffice to say that the second half is about Merlin and his adventures – which involve more Amberian politics, many of Corwin’s counterparts, and themes both more and less mundane than the first 5 books.
The only problem with the whole thing is that each book… well, isn’t even remotely a book. Sure there’s some ramp up that involves rehashing Everything Up To This Point, and there’s build up and climax… but generally they just climax into a cliff hanger. Then you turn the page and you’re on the next book. Really this is ok with everything bound in one volume, because it’s easy enough to ignore. The REAL problem is that the same thing can be said for the final book. It just leaves off, exactly the same as all the previous books. Bugger. The worst part is you can tell from the feel of things there that Zelazny was probably planning a whole ‘nother story arc… but the bastard kicked the bucket. The nerve of some authors, eh?
But yeah - I’d say The Great Book of Amber is worth reading. It’s definitely engaging, interesting, and has excellent characters. It also got me laughing aloud a number of times, which is always a good sign. Just two suggestions: read this book with something breaking up the middle. I did it all in a couple-week blitz and it was just too much. I’d suggest reading the Corwin arc, then giving it a short break. And secondly: be prepared to not have everything wrapped up. There’s nothing for it.