Yes, I really liked the book a lot. I would like to finish the series; however, there are a lot of short books. When you have to buy 10 short books for the full price of 10 books the price is bad.
Great book, but for my book dollar I will move somewhere else.
I listened to this many years ago as it was read by the author. He lacks the capacity for multiple voices that Juliani brings to it, but I think that's all to the good. Juliani gives each brother a different accent, often exaggeratedly so. Zelazny made them all run together. Everyone sounded the same, in an almost bored, been-there manner. If that meant less artistry, it also meant a truer interpretation of the work. These guys are virtually interchangeable in their cruelty, and I think that was part of what Zelazny was after. Characterizing them like this dampens the noir foundation of the books.
I’m came back to this one after 20 years, and after it had grown in my memory as one of the best fantasy novels I’d ever read. The good news: this absolutely holds up. If you don’t know Amber, then put it on your list. It’s an accomplishment right up there with anything in the genre.
It’s particularly rewarding to revisit the book in the wake of George R.R. Martin’s recent success. I can see a good bit of Martin’s vision growing out of Zelazny’s. As I read them, they are the two most successful fantasy series to take place in, essentially, amoral universes. Neither gives us anyone who really comes across as a “good guy.” Neither privileges the point-of-view character(s) as somehow better than his or her rivals. Corwin may develop some compassion, but he is still generally indifferent to mortal suffering. He may feel bad about sacrificing a quarter of a million “shadow dwellers” in the service of his ambition, but he never lets it ruin his day.
The central difference between Martin and Zelazny, though, is that Martin’s moral neutrality comes from a sense of realpolitik, a post-Cold War sensibility in which all sides are capable of harming others. Zelazny’s comes from an older, hardboiled sentiment: the world is cold and indifferent, and everyone is ultimately a son-of-a-bitch. Once you embrace that foundational truth, you can have a lot of fun.
And this is fun. If it isn’t as sprawling as Martin’s work, it’s much more efficient. (The first five Amber novels combined are probably not much longer than the first Game of Thrones book.) It begins as an almost conventional noir story: an amnesiac wakes to discover he’s being drugged against his will in a private “hospital.” We learn his history at the same time he does. It turns out to be a huge history, one that implicitly stands at the heart of many of the mythologies we know in the West. Corwin and his siblings have been interfering in Earthly affairs for centuries, yet we humans can glimpse them only in shadowy form and cannot hope to comprehend what their one true world of Amber looks like.
You’ll know whether the genre interests you. If it does, give this one a shot. It’s short, adrenaline-fueled, and can stand alone. If you get hooked, though, there’s a lot more where it came from, and you’ll introduce yourself to one of the real masters.
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
The first person narrator of Roger Zelazny's Nine Princes in Amber (1970) wakes up in a hospital without knowing who he is or how he came to be there. He does know that he's been being kept in a drugged sleep, so he feigns unconsciousness, takes out a thuggish orderly, threatens the doctor in charge, and, finally learning from him that his "sister" checked him into the hospital, heads off in a taxi for her home in NY. Thus begins his quest for identity and memory, which occupies the first half of the novel. By concealing his amnesia, acting as if he's considering his next move in some game of power, and examining every clue, he soon learns that his name is Corwin, that he is a prince of a place called Amber ("the key to everything"), and that his Machiavellian kin (eight brothers and at least four sisters) feel little kinship for each other: "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." But how can he return to Amber, and what is the family game that stranded him memoryless on earth?
I remembering loving the first Amber cycle when I was in high school, painfully waiting for the fifth book to be published in 1978 so I could find out how Corwin's saga ends. Revisiting Nine Princes of Amber thirty-five years later, I still find good things in it. Zelazny's conception of Amber as the only real place, the one true substance from which all other cities and worlds, including earth, are "but a reflection of a shadow," is intriguing, as is his depiction of traveling through the Shadow worlds by mentally adding and subtracting features till you arrive at Amber. He tells a page-turning story. His strategy of having Corwin reveal early on that he's telling his tale as he is about to die somehow somewhere in the future is neat. There are some nice lines, like "As I sailed into Shadow, a white bird of my desire came and sat upon my right shoulder." And as he exploits the internecine machinations of a dysfunctional super-powered family, Zelazny explores the ways in which hatred shapes the world, partly through the filter of the Vietnam War: "I walked among Shadows, and found a race of furry creatures, dark and clawed and fanged, reasonably man-like, and about as intelligent as a freshman in the high school of your choice--sorry, kids, but what I mean is they were loyal, devoted, honest, and too easily screwed by bastards like me and my brother."
Alas, today I can also see many warts on the novel. For example, despite loving the soldiers fighting and dying for him, despite invoking the horror of napalm and mushroom clouds, despite having participated in appalling campaigns like Napoleon's march on Moscow, and despite having come to care for other lives during his centuries of exile on earth, Corwin (and Zelazny) really do treat the quarter of a million plus casualties of the Amber game as anonymous, "custom-made cannon fodder," when a truly caring prince might try first to mentally dominate his nemesis so as to avoid war via one of the nifty tarot-like cards that serve the royalty of Amber as combination telephones and teleporters. Corwin's "guilt" feels crocodilian.
Another: Despite Amber being the only real realm, Corwin's allusions to people, events, and works from our "Shadow earth" (like "I suddenly realized that I had known the mad, sad, bad Vincent Van Gogh") so outnumber those from Amber's history that Zelazny evokes our own world more than he develops Amber. This is especially so when Corwin uses American slang and sexism from 1970. He refers to a nurse as "a hippy broad," says that he can or can't "dig" certain things, decides to "play it cool," invites a friend to "make the scene," and so on. Zelazny is grounding his fantasy with an "authentic" language and manner, but it causes some cringes.
As for gender, early on Corwin devotes a paragraph each to describe his brothers and himself, but only a single paragraph for his sisters, and he often wonders what happened to his father but not to his mother. Only men are fit to rule Amber, and the royal sisters are basically concubines of the fittest. Corwin even gets to indulge in a Captain Kirk-like interlude with a suitably bare-breasted and green-nippled undersea queen.
Finally, Zelazny's depiction of Corwin as a macho, sensitive warrior-bard, expert at martial and liberal arts, fluent in hip slang and Shakespearean English, possessed of superhuman strength and regenerative powers (no wonder he can chain smoke without getting cancer!), starts feeling like a nerdy adolescent's ultimate cool guy power fantasy (no wonder I loved these books in high school!). With the possible exception of Random, Corwin's siblings appear flat next to him.
The reader Allesandro Juliani, excellent with Solaris, is good here, but his light and casual voice make Corwin seem less substantial and charismatic than he could be, and his attempts to vocally distinguish the other eight brothers from each other begin to sound strained. He also tends to make female voices too high and weak.
Later entries in the Amber cycle may correct my kvetches, but to find out I'll dust off my high school days' Avon paperbacks rather than pay Audible for each of the four remaining five-hour novels (when a single 25-hour omnibus audiobook would have been nice).
avid audiobook listener, sociopath, nerd.
I loved this story. It was snarky and action packed. I'll definitely be listening to the next book!
Alessandro Juliani, who narrated the first half of the series, from Corwin's pov, did a really good job of capturing the tone and attitude of Zelazny's writing.
Wil Wheaton, narrating the books from the pov of Merlin, son of Corwin, pick that up and also does a great job. I never have trouble distinguishing which character is speaking at any given moment, he remembers inflections and accents that he gives bit parts and keeps them consistent.
Zelzany's writing is always an interesting mix of whimsical, edgy, and inventive. Sometimes the descriptions of landscapes go on and on, but by and large this is a very enjoyable and original series.
In audio at last Alessandro Juliani reading is very good,let you known who talking thouthout the story!
Hear about this series many year ago just never got round to it first book is very good.
It had been a long time since I had read the book, and it was fun revisiting it through the eyes of someone else.
Corwin. He is the protagonist, and the story revolves around him.
This is probably my all time favorite fantasy series that I read in book form previously. Nine Princes is the perfect first book for the series. The narrator did a good job but would have like to had Wil Wheaton to all 10 books of Amber. The story shines through though. Loved it.
Zelazny crafted a very orginal take on the Fantasy genre and the dialogue is great
I loved the ending of the story and the promise it holds for more
Get this, it's definitely worth the credit
I do things!
The though of manipulating "shadows" is a great story idea
His meter and delivery with his own voices makes this book come to life with an edge I had not realized when I read the series 30+ years ago.
Walk the pattern
Listening made this book new again. Thank you!