Book Review: Sign of the Unicorn

Book Three in the Chronicles of Amber series may not be the most thrilling, but Lady Lascivious will tell you why it’s necessary.

The first thing I tweeted when I picked up Sign of the Unicorn was my hesitation at the fruity-sounding title.  Part of me thinks it’s a shame that unicorns have come to be regarded as glittery frufru stuff for little girls with their Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers (do they still have those??).  Unicorns should be all fierce and spearing people and shit. 
On an unrelated note, a Google search for “angry unicorn” brings up some pretty interesting stuff.  A lot of it is penises.  And this guy.  Classy, no?  Somehow I don’t think this is the sign that Zelazny was talking about.  But I digress.

If you’ve been keeping up with this little tirade of mine, you’ll remember that Sign of the Unicorn is the third book in the Chronicles of Amber series.  And being right in the middle seems like an appropriate place for this book within the confines of the series.  I have to confess right now that as soon as I finished Unicorn last night, I went straight into the fourth book and read the first two chapters because I simply couldn’t let the story end where it did.  Unlike the first book, which had an ending that felt more like an ending, Unicorn seems like it might be the second part of Guns of Avalon, and should move directly into the fourth book.  It’s as if the three books were originally one but were serialized, which is probably a good move from a publishing standpoint but could be quite frustrating to a reader.  

The story itself is also very transitional.  There’s very little action to speak of, compared to the first two books; no big battles against evil forces, not many strange new lands or creatures to encounter.  No, Sign of the Unicorn is very much a political book.  And I mean that in a very good way.  Within the greater context, Unicorn serves to enlighten the reader, to give answers to many of the persistent questions asked by both reader and narrator.  Zelazny uses this opportunity to bring the whole family together, to deepen the group dynamic and really display the interactions between them all.  But of course, as with any great mystery story, one may be left with more questions than answers.  Just as things start to make sense, they take a turn again, and the final chapter leaves you with a great big WTFTHISCAN’TBETHEEND!!? 

Being mostly background and transition, the book is a bit shorter than the others, and it feels so.  While it may be lacking in length and action, it is a very necessary part of the series and I sure as hell don’t want to discount it in any way.  The storytelling is well done so that it never feels like fluff or extraneous nonsense.  Zelazny does a great job of conveying the seriousness and important nature of what’s going on without growing stuffy or pompous. 

Our quasi-hero Corwin has really come into his own by this point, although he still has things to learn in his own crafty ways.  His wit and charm are still there, but seem muted or guarded as warranted by the situation he now finds himself in.  The character in this story that really charmed me was Ganelon, Corwin’s friend and general, brought from Avalon to Amber.  He’s a welcome respite from the family bickering and the constant stresses Corwin has been yoked with.  At times he speaks much as the reader might, bringing an outsider’s view of events with surprising clarity and insight.  It was also nice to see Random back full-time (although with the way things are going, I never know if I should be glad to see someone or not); his tale of the journey to Brand and back was quite possibly the highlight of the book for me. (More fighting! Yay!)  I won’t bring any spoilers into play, but I feel he’s about to have a rocky time and I’m very curious as to how Zelazny will write him from an emotional standpoint. 

In all, Sign of the Unicorn didn’t disappoint and worked well in a lot of ways to move the story forward without covering too much ground.  And yes, there is actually a unicorn in it.  Don’t let that dissuade you.   

Did you read it?  What did you think?  Leave a comment! 

Also, this picture is unrelated.


You know, so much of the Corwin series seems like Zelazny is creating it as he writes it. A “yeah, and then THIS happens, see!!” because much of the world of Amber gets explained to Corwin (and us) that he should already know. I know he’s got amnesia, but still, it seemed like was making it up as he typed it.

Still a good series. Read it.

Oh, and there’s a video game for the first two books. Put out by Telarium in 1985 (waaaay back in the day for the Commodore 64, Apple II, IBM, and DOS). It’s a text-only adventure game. It might still be available as a free download. Somewhere.

I can’t say as I’d recommend playing it. There’s a long long long list of things you’re better off doing.

Posted June 22, 2010 06:06 am
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