Nine Princes in Amber: Still fresh and original today

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsNine Princes in Amber by Roger ZelaznyNine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny

“I’d get what I needed and take what I wanted and I’d remember those who helped me and step on the rest. For this, I knew, was the law by which our family lived, and I was a true son of my father.”

When Corwin wakes up in a private hospital after driving his car over a cliff, he has no idea who he is. When he realizes that he has healed too fast and that he’s being drugged so he’ll stay unconscious, he decides that he better find out what’s going on.

The truth is strange: Corwin is one of the nine princes of Amber, the one true world, but for centuries he’s been exiled in the Shadowland we call Earth. The accident has actually dislodged the spell that his brother Eric was using to keep him out of Amber because Corwin is the biggest threat to Eric’s sovereignty there.

Nine Princes in Amber is the first (rather short) installment in a long epic that describes, from Corwin’s perspective and later his son’s, the struggle of his family to deal with both their internal treacheries and the evil forces that assail them from the forces of Chaos. In Nine Princes in Amber, Corwin must figure out who he is, assess his resources, gather some allies, wonder whether his father is dead or alive, and make a move on the throne of Amber. Here we learn what Corwin has been doing for centuries on Earth, meet several of his siblings, discover the way in and out of Amber, meet a race of people who live under the sea, and discover some of the special powers of Corwin’s family.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsAh… Corwin’s family… if you can call them a “family.” Corwin’s own description for them is “Machiavellian,” and that about covers it. Corwin and his brothers and sisters are clever, sophisticated, sarcastic, and extremely ambitious. They constantly scheme and plot to outmaneuver each other as they vie for political power. If you knew these people in real life, you’d probably hate them, but in Zelazny’s hands they’re kind of charming. These are people who plan to live forever, have the ability to design their own worlds to plunder, are incapable of trust, and have no reason to think about anyone other than themselves. In the end, Corwin rages against his brother and makes a rash decision that will negatively affect Amber’s future.

THE CHRONICLES OF AMBER was highly imaginative when it was published in the 1970s and it remains fresh and original today. The magic system is creative, Zelazny’s writing style is solid, the story is fast-paced, exciting, and mature. Plot twists and cliffhangers make it hard to stop reading. You’ll definitely want to have The Guns of Avalon, the second book in the series, ready to go as soon as you finish Nine Princes in Amber.

Nine Princes in Amber is a re-read for me because Audible Frontiers has recently produced THE CHRONICLES OF AMBER on audio — something I have been waiting years for. They’ve chosen one of their best narrators for Zelazny’s most famous work: Alessandro Juliani. He’s got the perfect voice and style to play Corwin, so I’m really pleased with this production. If you’re an audio reader, you’ll definitely want to download this classic!

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. Hit, Kat!
    You’re revisiting so many of my early SF/fantasy reads! It’s like being in a time warp (if only…!)
    I picked up the (classic hefty tome) omnibus when it came out a while back. My access to SF/F was uncertain when the volumes were originally published (non-English-speaking furrin country, arm&leg required for purchase if book could be located at all), so I never did manage to assemble the whole series. I curled up with it at the first opportunity but — aagh! You know how sometimes you’re better off not looking back? Haven’t got beyond vol. 1 so far, partly because it seemed, well, simple ground too well trodden in the meantime. Maybe the audio book is the way to go if the reader is good.

    • Tizz, I read that huge tome, too, many years ago. I have always wanted to re-read it, so the audio gave me a perfect excuse. You’re right that it doesn’t seem as original now as it did, but since this first book was published in 1970, it really was original back then and I try to judge it by its historical context. But I still think it stands apart, though that may be my own particular nostalgia for Corwin.

      I recall that I liked the first 5 books much better than the last 5.

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