Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny

On occasion, I will be posting reviews on the Walker of Worlds site.  The following review is the first I have done for them.

This review originally appeared on the Walker of Worlds site on January 17, 2011.  To see the original posting and comments click here.

Title: Nine Princes in Amber
Author: Roger Zelazny
Publisher: Doubleday
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 188
Release Date: 1970

It was starting to end, after what seemed most of eternity to me.

I attempted to wriggle my toes, succeeded.  I was sprawled there in a hospital bed and my legs were done up in plaster casts, but they were still mine.

I squeezed my eyes shut, and opened them three times.

The room grew steady.

Where the hell was I?

And so begins “Nine Princes in Amber”, the first book in Roger Zelazny’s classic Chronicles of Amber series.

The Chronicles of Amber introduced me to reading not only Roger Zelazny but also fantasy.  I remember being fascinated by “Sign of the Unicorn” when it appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine (it was the first science fiction magazine I subscribed to).  It is the third book in the series.  As soon as I found out about two earlier books in the same series, I rushed out, bought, and read them.  Since then I have been hooked on Zelazny.

From the first page when Corwin wakes up in a hospital with no memories, the author keeps the story moving at a furious pace.  The way he combines the classic film noir stylized main character with the fantasy/science fiction world is amazing.  Due to his situation, Corwin does not trust anyone.  He manages to escape, track down one of his sisters, and begin his journey to return home and claim the throne.  Corwin’s father is believed to be dead and Corwin’s brother Eric (one of the nine princes of the title) is ready to take over as the new king.  The odds are very much in Eric’s favor.  Corwin makes alliances and fights his way to Eric.  The climax and epilogue are surprising.  Corwin’s battle in this book does not end in the traditional way.

Zelazny introduces numerous concepts in this novel.

Amber-Corwin’s home is the “one true world”.  All other worlds are but Shadows of Amber.  Earth is but another one of the Shadows.

The Trumps-painted cards based on the Tarot deck.  When one of the royal family uses the Trumps, they can contact and communicate with other family members.  They can also be used to transport a person to your location.

Shadow walking-the vivid descriptions of how the royal family travels from Shadow to Shadow is haunting.  The family uses their will to add or subtract details from the location they are traveling through.  Eventually, they are able to transport themselves to another Shadow or to Amber.  As the author likes to remind us, “all roads lead to Amber”.

The Pattern-it exists in Amber and in the city of Rebma (a reflection of Amber that is under water).  A true blood of Amber can survive walking the Pattern.  Once they are done, it gives them the ability to walk through Shadows.  If the person does not have the blood of Amber in their veins, the Pattern will kill them.

In addition to the fascinating concepts, Zelazny adds the internal battles of a family who does not trust anyone.  Alliances are made, family is betrayed, and failure results in banishment if you are lucky.  The unfortunate ones suffer a worse fate.

Even though the reader knows that Corwin will pay for his act of rebellion, you can’t help but cheer for one of his victories.  I will not go into details because it would give away the outcome.  Let me just say that sometimes the only victory you can achieve is an act of defiance.

Zelazny once again displays his love of combining poetic language with pulp style plotting.  “Nine Princes in Amber” is a modern pulp story.  What elevates it to classic status is Zelazny’s skill at writing.  Some of his passages will captivate you.  The way he combined language, fantastic settings, and conflict in a short novel is rare.  His descriptions of walking through Shadows, Rebma, Amber, and the battle scenes are outstanding.

Is this a perfect book by today’s standards?  No.  The sisters of the royal family are relegated to the background.  In most cases the treatment of women is a carryover from the pulp era.  The only strong woman in the book was the queen of Rebma.  Her role is a passive one.  In later books, the women take a bigger role.

The other shortcoming of this book is that it is just the first part of the story.  Zelazny does bring about a resolution but it does not finish the main story.  If you have not tried his work before, read this book.  The short length will not take long to read.  If you are like me, you will be rushing out to get the rest of the series.  It will be worth your time.



Carl V. said...

Great! I went over there and read it and left you a comment on that site. And of course it makes me want to change my answer to Galaxy Magazine, for the poll question.

Wiz-ziW said...

If you look at a 'pattern' like a constitution and watch for it to be damaged by supreme courts... you may find an odd metaphor here.