Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Amber 01: Nine Princes in Amber (Zelazny, Roger)--full review

Rating: 5/5
Year: 1970
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes!

Awwww, yeah. It's good to begin a new year with good reading. I've been reading and re-reading Roger Zelazny's "Amber" series since maybe 1983. From then until the mid-90s, I was reading the whole set at least twice a year, especially when Zelazny started adding to the original five with another set of five. The original quintet is told from the point of view of Prince Corwin of Amber. The second set is told by his son Merlin.

Corwin awakens in a small private hospital somewhere in New York state. He remembers a car crash, but his own identity is a mystery. There's a "hard-boiled detective" quality to this part of the book. Is his name Corey? Carl? Who caused the wreck? Who's keeping him there?

Sister? Evelyn Flaumel? Nothing to do but go for a visit. She's got a very expensive house in upstate New York. They talk. She gives him his own name--Corwin. She mentions "Eric." All he knows is that he hates the man.

The mystery unfolds a bit at a time, as they should. Building, building...a name...a place...a scrap of memory...they talk some more.

No faces, no clue who these men are. He knows he can't trust anyone. Every interaction is a chess match played many moves ahead, with life and death at stake. He doesn't tell Evelyn about his amnesia.

She mentions Amber. He knows it's a place, but can't see it in his mind.
Florimel; he knows that's her real name.

The next morning, she's gone. He explores the library, ultimately finding a small case of cards. They're designed like Tarot cards--wands, pentacles, cups and swords, and the Greater Trumps are people he knows.
Corwin himself.
Nine brothers.

Florimel--Flora, for short.
Four sisters.

But what's with the medieval garb? Why does Corwin know how to use a sword?

Brisk the pace, quick the action, and short the novel. By page 141 Corwin has his answers, has regained his memories and has joined brother Bleys in raising an army and navy to take the throne of Amber from their usurping brother Eric. We've got 34 pages to go.

We're into the action quickly, as opposed to the near-leisurely pace of a 400-page Mercedes Lackey novel. By page 141 in one of her books, the protagonist is just facing the Big Crisis that ends the first act, with decades of pages thereafter 'til resolution. Then you've got two more 400-page books after that.

Zelazny takes us much farther with an economy that I really wish Lackey and other wordy writers would (or could) learn. His style is conversational and flows without distractions. But as we'll see in the next nine books, he builds a believable, complicated, sophisticated world, joining mythology, psychology, philosophy, and references to Shakespeare.

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