Nine Princes in Amber – Roger Zelazny (1972)
‘He awoke in a hospital bed – remembering very little – only that he had been in an accident that was no accident. He discovered that his name was Corwin, and that he was stronger than any human being had a right to be…
Later, on a journey that began in New York and ended in a world of forests and mountains, monsters and fantasies, he discovered who he really was -–Corwin, prince of Amber… Corwin, whose colours were black and silver – who had been exiled to the shadow world of Earth and had now returned to claim the throne…’
Blurb from the 1974 Corgi paperback edition
Zelazny’s stylish and inventive piece of Science Fantasy works initially by its oblique relationship to our own world.
Our hero awakens in a hospital somewhere in North America, not being able to remember who or where he is, but suspecting that that not all is well. Feeling remarkably fit for someone hospitalised, he resists attempts to sedate him further and escapes, having discovered the address of his sister in the hospital records.
Furnished with cash taken from the hospital he buys new clothes and makes his way to his sister’s rather large house and gleans snippets of information by pretending that he has recovered his memory. Small snatches of memory nag at him, but it is not until he gets a phone call from his brother Random that things start turning very weird.
Our hero’s name, he discovers, is Corwin, and the Earth that we know is not the real world. It is merely a ‘Shadow’ thrown by the true world of Amber, a world in which Corwin is a Prince. Corwin’s father Oberon has disappeared and Eric, Corwin’s brother, has assumed the throne.
After enduring a nightmare car journey in which Random ‘adds or subtracts’ things from the world to bring them closer to Amber, they find themselves in the underwater mirror-city of Rebma. There, Corwin must walk The Great Pattern, an intricate spiral design laid out on the floor of a great hall, which restores Corwin’s memories and gives him once more the power to walk through Shadow.
He discovers that he is practically immortal and that he has numerous brothers and sisters, some of whom are not well-disposed toward him.
Zelazny’s laconic style, coupled with the first-person narrative again add to the sense of juxtaposition, as do the out-of-place elements, such as characters who fight with swords and employ magical artefacts while smoking cigarettes and driving cars.
It’s an exciting, original, sometimes humourous work, in contrast to some of the more dour and homogenous British pieces of Science Fantasy of the Seventies.
The series comprises of a further four novels, and another five featuring Corwin’s son Merlin, as well as a number of short stories.
The series subsequently had permission from the Zelazny estate for a further four Amber novels by John Gregory Betancourt. A fifth was planned, but remained in limbo following the death of i-books publisher, Byron Preiss
Zelazny stated in an interview that his Amber stories were (possibly unconsciously)inspired by Henry Kuttner’s ‘Dark World’ (1946)
‘…the Kuttner story which most impressed me in those most impressionable days was his short novel The Dark World. I returned to it time and time, reading it over and over again, drawn by its colorful, semi-mythic characters and strong action. …looking back, Kuttner and Moore—and, specifically, The Dark World—were doubtless a general influence on my development as a writer. As for their specific influences—particularly on my Amber series—I never thought about it until Jane Lindskold started digging around and began pointing things out to me’ (Issue 5 of Amberzine)