“Besides, I like libraries. It makes me feel comfortable and secure to have walls of words, beautiful and wise, all around me. I always feel better when I can see that there is something to hold back the shadows.”
Nine Princes in Amber is the first book in the Chronicles of Amber series. My initial reaction to the novel is a positive one, as it reflects upon the better aspects of pulp fantasy fiction from the 1970s and beyond. In many ways I feel that this novel is what Michael Moorcock was aiming to create with his Elric novels and yet I feel as if Zelazny succeeded much better at creating a book which reflects a mixture of strange magic and human appeal.
The Prince Corwin, awakes at the beginning of this novel to find himself in a hospital where he has been kept sedated for two weeks. Unfortunately he remembers almost nothing about his past life and why he has been placed in the hospital. He discovers quickly however that he does not belong on Earth (where he has found himself) but is a member of a proud and arrogant bloodline that considers itself superior. He is a member of the house of Amber, the real world from which all other worlds are constructed in the Shadow as mere copies and imitations. And so of course Corwin discovers quickly that he is a part of a battle for the abandoned throne of Amber and must fight for that throne.
The concept of one world being the true one and all others being copies is an interesting one to me. Alongside the other magical idea of having a race of beings who can manipulate these other worlds in their own ways I was fascinated by this. In essence our main character is a kind of godly being, only with some of the limitations of a mortal and forced to fight for his very survival.
The one negative to this novel is that, like many other fantasy novels, women have been depicted in a way that suits the author's intentions for his male characters. In other words they are absent or removed from the real aspects of the plot. The few female characters that did appear served to exist as Corwin's lovers or his sisters (whom he used to hide from his brother). However, I do not feel this necessarily an indictment on Zelazny yet, as I have not read anything else by him to this point. It may be more a reflection on the arrogance and brutality of his protagonists and antagonists.
Is Nine Princes in Amber a decent novel then? I would admit to it being a beyond decent novel. With its magic, its brevity and its overall enigmatic charm it was a book that ticked many of the boxes of what I appreciate in fiction. I almost forgot to mention the subtlety of the humour, which tied in nicely into the ways Zelazny showed events unfolding. Of course, the prose is nothing to praise in particular (this is a pulp fantasy work) but by stripping his prose of too many distracting elements Zelazny capably focused his novel around the unfolding action and the likeability and distastefulness of the characters. That, in my eyes, is solid writing.