Nine Princes in Amber

Posted by : atcampbell | On : December 17, 2008

Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny

Thirteen people attended this meeting at A. T.’s home, including one first time visitor. Our topic was Nine Princes in Amber, the classic fantasy adventure by Roger Zelazny. All of us had read Zelazny before. Four were reading this book for the first time, and most of the rest had initially read it many years ago.

The book’s clever narrative hook (a man waking up with no memory in a hospital) worked well for most of us. That got us reading, and Zelazny’s clever storytelling got many of us through this relatively short book rather quickly.

Many of us thought the book was a good swashbuckler. We liked the dysfunctional royal family with superpowers. We thought the complicated magic system was interesting, and particularly liked interdimensional travel through playing cards.

One reader had mixed feelings about the book. He thought there were flashes of good writing and action. He felt that hardboiled/noir fiction was an influence on the storytelling. He appreciated that the book does not follow standard fantasy templates. He felt all the characters were arrogant and selfish, with the protagonist, Corwin, only slightly less so than his siblings. This reader felt the book’s ending was disappointing, since Corwin doesn’t really accomplish any of his goals, other than staying alive and escaping.

Some remembered the book fondly, but did not think the book wore well upon rereading. One person did not like the book’s depiction of women as “helpless sisterly things,” and would prefer a modern version where “women kicked butt.”

Some of us had such fond memories about the book that we found it hard to discuss critically. One had read the novel many times and just found it to be a “ripping yarn”.  This book was another’s first Zelazny novel; he’d enjoyed it so much that he later read most of the author’s work and became a big Zelazny fan. He enjoyed Zelazny’s imagination, terse storytelling, and use of words. He particularly enjoyed reading Zelazny’s descriptions of Corwin’s transitions between worlds.

A few people just did not enjoy the book. They felt the book was just a bunch of pointing fighting and running around the countryside, and did not like the main character.

Several of us noted that this book was clearly an influence on current writers, particularly Charles Stross in his Merchant Princes series.
Near the end, several people suggested who we might cast as Corwin in a movie adaptation. Suggestions included Michael Caine, Humphrey Bogart, Clive Owen, Patrick McGoohan, and Sean Connery.

Overall we generally liked the book, and were glad to read another classic in our group. After the meeting, several of us had a nice dinner at Opal Divine’s.


— A.T. Campbell, III