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Nine Princes in Amber (The Chronicles of Amber #1)
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1st Chronicles of Amber discuss > Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny

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message 1: by Andrea (last edited Aug 11, 2018 05:00AM) (new) - added it

Andrea | 2567 comments This is our discussion of the novel....

Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny

The first book in the Chronicles of Amber series. See The First Chronicles of Amber discussion hub for more info on the series and pointers to discussion of its other novels.


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

Zelazny starts with book with the main character (Corey, AKA Corwin) awakening in a hospital (or private care facility) with no memory, presumed the result of a car crash that put him in the hospital.

Zelazny's used the "no memory" or "out of date" memory in a couple of his stories. Sometimes it's just an exposition device, as we learn about the world as the main character does. In Nine Princes in Amber he's made the process itself entertaining. Corwin is clearly no ordinary person with no memory: he's intensely suspicious of everything, including the medical staff, has no problem being rude and threatening violence. He checks himself out and goes fishing for info without letting on that he has no memory (which makes for some humor when he's bluffing Flora with vague statements and non-answers, but she keeps filling in the blanks with her imagination and saying, "very clever".)

The whole opening is an interesting duel of wits in which Corwin is really unarmed yet manages to bluff his way through.


Brendan (mistershine) | 743 comments I'm interested to see the comments for this first book since I gotta say I didn't really "get" it. I hated Corwin and had no interest if he was victorious or not.


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Andrea | 2567 comments It is interesting reading this the second time around. First time I read it was years ago and I only vaguely remembered the overall concept. So as Corwin was getting flashes of memory, so was I. For example I remembered the forest of Arden, even though I wouldn't have recalled it without having re-read that scene. So I can fully understand what he's going through.

But the forest of Arden is where I'm at now, we'll see if this other scene I remember is actually from this book or not...


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Brendan wrote: "I'm interested to see the comments for this first book since I gotta say I didn't really "get" it. I hated Corwin and had no interest if he was victorious or not."

It's interesting that when we had a brief exchange on Consider Phlebas, you said some (including me) didn't like it because they didn't like villain protagonists.

To me, Amber is more a series to like based on the setting concept, and the characters are just there to expose it.

I don't think Zelazny does traditional "heroes", just "superior beings" who are usually out for themselves, such as here, Jack of Shadows, Lord of Light (both previous group discussion topics), Not evil, but not the traditional knight in shining armor, either. Off hand, Damnation Alley is the closest I recall Zelazny has come to a traditional heroic effort. (Jim can probably cite others.)


message 6: by Jim (new) - rated it 1 star

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2178 comments I've always liked Corwin. He certainly isn't perfect, but pretty likable compared to most of his family. Benedict is the best of the bunch, but they're all very powerful, flawed beings who happen to have a lot power. So much that it's a wonder they're not a lot worse.


message 7: by Brendan (last edited Aug 11, 2018 04:38PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brendan (mistershine) | 743 comments G33z3r wrote: "Brendan wrote: "I'm interested to see the comments for this first book since I gotta say I didn't really "get" it. I hated Corwin and had no interest if he was victorious or not."

It's interesting..."


I guess what I don't like about Corwin vs Horza is that it is clear Horza is not heroic, and not meant to be. He's on the wrong side, and the text makes that clear. I never interpreted that the author intended Corwin to be villainous, which maybe is my misreading.


message 8: by Jim (new) - rated it 1 star

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2178 comments G33z3r wrote: "...Off hand, Damnation Alley is the closest I recall Zelazny has come to a traditional heroic effort. (Jim can probably cite others.)"

I'm not sure what the traditional hero is. I would have thought Sam in "Lord of Light" was closer than Hell of "Damnation Alley". Conrad (who may really be the Great God Pan) is probably one in This Immortal. Very similar to Hercules in many ways. There are several in 'Creatures of Light & Darkness', but it's a little tough to figure out what heroism is in that universe.


message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

Rosemary wrote: "You can tell this was written in the seventies, there is a lot of smoking."

Also, full service gas stations. :)


message 10: by Cat (last edited Aug 11, 2018 07:27PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cat | 343 comments I quite liked it. There were some funny moments when he was trying to figure out what was going without letting anyone else know at the start.

It certainly got a bit weird with the 'going to Amber' section, but compared with the weirdness of his other book Lord of Light (the only other book of his I've read), I really didn't think it was that unusual for Zelazny's writing! I came into this expecting it to be weird and to not understand parts - I suspect if I hadn't read his work before I would have found it more challenging. As it was, turns out I quite like Zelazny's version of weird!

I didn't mind Corwin, he had both good and bad moments, I certainly didn't find him to be particular objectionable. And I really really want to know whether he was victorious or not. Which is why I was a little bit surprised the other day when Jim said that originally it was a stand-alone book. I felt like it ended on such a cliff-hanger. I want to know what happens next!

I probably had more objections to how women were portrayed - the attitude towards his sisters compared with his brothers irritated me no end, although I suspect that is a reflection of the time period in which this was written.


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Boy, do I feel stupid. It's been almost half a century since I first read Nine Princes in Amber, and I've re-read it several times since (including back in 2012 when the group previously discussed Amber). But this is the first time I realized that Rebma was Amber spelled backwards. <facepalm>


message 12: by Jim (new) - rated it 1 star

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2178 comments Cat, Zelazny doesn't mind leaving characters hanging in the wind at the end of a story. Look at how he handled Sam's fate at the end of "Lord of Light" - 4 different possibilities which were certainly incomplete & likely only had a passing acquaintance with the truth. I don't think the end of the 5th & 10th books are much more of an ending in this series. He liked leaving stories open ended for artistic reasons, but he definitely wrote to make money, so allowed for sequels.

While he wasn't known for being as crass as Harlan Ellison, he definitely wanted to make a buck. For instance, he admired Vaughn Bodé's work & wanted to do an illustrated book with him. He had already written the two stories a decade before, although I'm not sure if he'd published them before approaching Bode.

Anyway, the result was Here There Be Dragons / Way Up High. The 2 short stories have half a dozen illustrations in each by Bodé. They both wanted such a large percentage of royalties (20%?) that no publisher could afford to publish it. After Bodé died, his widow decided to drop her percentage of the royalties & maybe he did too, but I don't think by very much. The books were published as a limited edition boxed set of 1000 books signed by Zelazny. It took me years to find it for under $100. Now you can find a copy for $350, but some are over $500.


message 13: by Jim (new) - rated it 1 star

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2178 comments G33z3r wrote: "Also, full service gas stations. :)"

Unless you live in New Jersey or Oregon. My cousin tells me that Huntington, NY (out on the north shore of Long Island) doesn't let customers pump their own gas, either. It's certainly not the norm any more, though.

All I can say about Rebma is, "wow". It's constantly described as a mirror of Amber. Amazing how sometimes things like that can fall through the cracks in our minds. I can't think of an example offhand, but I know I've done the same thing.
:)


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Andrea | 2567 comments Jim wrote: "Cat, Zelazny doesn't mind leaving characters hanging in the wind at the end of a story. Look at how he handled Sam's fate at the end of "Lord of Light" - 4 different possibilities which were certai..."

Think the same could be true of our other group read, Jack of Shadows. Seems to be a theme, from the three books I've read. Come up with some really weird but fascinating world, throw in a protagonist who isn't really a good guy, but definitely interesting and roguish, and then leave the story hanging at the end.

And as Cat pointed out, the sisters were ridiculously useless. Seems they weren't even good at being devious (even if one couldn't expect them to wield a sword they could be skilled with poisons or something else traditionally "female").

And that other scene I remembered, it was walking the Pattern but for some reason remembered it as black and white squares on a floor, not a flaming path which is definitely much cooler.

Looking forward to reading more.


message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

Jim wrote: "All I can say about Rebma is, "wow". It's constantly described as a mirror of Amber. Amazing how sometimes things like that can fall through the cracks in our minds...."

I think I just don't pay a lot of attention to fantasy people & place names. (Loremipsum optionally followed by mount, wood, wold, vale, ville.)

So, is there any meaning to the name Faiella-bionin, the staircase leading down to Rebma?


message 16: by Jim (new) - rated it 1 star

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2178 comments G33z3r wrote: "....So, is there any meaning to the name Faiella-bionin, the staircase leading down to Rebma?"

Probably, but I don't get the 'bionin' part. Faiella was one of Oberon's wives, mother to Eric, Corwin & Deirdre. She died having Deirdre. I don't know why a stair would be named for her, though. I do know it's dangerous to either ignore or assume too much with Zelazny's names. Sometimes they mean something, other times not. Possibly they're just such obscure references that no one will ever get them.

Zelazny read a lot & he often uses phrases & names from classical references, history, science, & similar source material to add depth to characters or just as a joke. He loved puns, allusions, & double meanings.

He also referenced the works of peers & friends. I've always thought that Grayswandir was a play on Fafhrd's Graywand. I can almost see him teasing Leiber about it. Both heroes tend to lose their sword a lot, but Corwin's can never be lost while Fafhrd just finds another & names it the same thing. That's a joke on Leiber's part since older fantasies often feature a special sword made the hero complete.

Even the title "Nine Princes In Amber" has a double meaning. In a letter to Andre Norton, he said something about it being the city name, an unchanging place, the polar opposite of Chaos. Amber is known for preserving things. The Trumps are central to the plot & also represent the leading inhabitants at a specific time in their lives, frozen in time, caught like insects in amber. There are quite a few references to this & it's one of the things that makes Corwin so interesting. None of his siblings change, but he has due to his long term in our shadow with amnesia. (view spoiler)

This sort of subtlety is why I find Zelazny's books so rereadable. Most of his books have a pretty simple plot, but his structure & style often make it difficult to realize on the first read. I'm usually trying to figure out what's going on the first time through. Once I know that, rereads let me enjoy the subtle word play a lot more.


message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

Jim wrote: "Cars quit working the closer they get to Amber. It's mentioned in several places...."

Andrea wrote: "Interesting, I thought the car stopped working because they ran out of gas and there were no more gas stations,..."

It's no doubt related to the "guns don't work in Amber" thing.

When authors create worlds where relatively simple things don't work, I always experience a mental dissonance trying to figure out how the laws of physics are altered so selectively. You can light a match, but gunpowder doesn't explode? Gas doesn't combust? (probably nothing rusts in Amber, either; saves on maintenance :)

I know I should just think, "It's magic" and not worry about it, but it's hard.


message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

Kivrin wrote: "Ugh! I always shudder at what Eric does to Corwin! I hated him for that. My memories of this book are very vivid especially this section."

For the degree of disfigurement, it's actually pretty mild in description ("let his eyes be burn out," "that which he said was done"), though your imagination is free to imagine it as horrifically as you care to.

(Maybe I think it's mild because I recently read Best Served Cold, which has a much grittier description of the process.)


message 19: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea | 2567 comments G33z3r wrote: "When authors create worlds where relatively simple things don't work, I always experience a mental dissonance trying to figure out how the laws of physics are altered so selectively. You can light a match, but gunpowder doesn't explode?"

Because the author is god and defines the rules of physics any way they like? Or maybe because gunpowder feels more technological than a match it made sense on the surface. Or author didn't even pause to think about it :)

Made me think of how I define a books as SF or Fantasy. I figure if the author attempted to explain things through science, even if the science was shaky, I'd classify a book as SF, however a single fantastical element (i.e. unexplained "magic") would automatically force it to be fantasy. The reverse however doesn't work, a single scientific element does not take a fantasy and make it SF because I figured even in a magical world they have laws of physics like gravity and friction and so forth (try wielding a sword without either of those), so there is always some level of "science" present inside a fantasy novel.

Amber to me is fantasy as it has all kinds of weird stuff that isn't explained in anyway other than "magic" (e.g. the Pattern, the Trumps...though I could see trying to turn them from magic to technology but the author would have to at least come up with something explaining how they work then). Interestingly 304 people on Goodreads think this is actually an SF novel, be curious as to their reasoning.

At least the rules of magic could claim matches work but gunpowder doesn't. But in the end, I think it just wasn't thought through by Zelazny. While your magic doesn't have to make sense (as long as the rules are consistent through your book) in the end it still jumps out at readers when you have something like this mixed in. What was it about the need to suspend disbelief but not hang it until dead?

In the end I decided it was ok here, since Zelazny's books tend towards the weird anyway, I'll accept all forms of weird that go with it, including inconsistencies.

Makes for good discussions guessing at possible reasons though :)


message 20: by Jim (new) - rated it 1 star

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2178 comments Zelazny didn't care for being pigeon-holed into a genre. He often seemed to work at putting both into a book. I consider Amber a fantasy, but he plays with a lot of SF elements in the series.

As for the match, think about that when we read the next book. Matches generally use phosphorus sulfide & potassium chlorate while gunpowder is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate. In both cases, the potassium compound provides the oxygen. Why chemicals would work differently is a mystery, but a lot of things seem to work differently in the shadows. Yeah, magic. Still, there are different chemicals involved.


Rachel | 522 comments So I finally got the omnibus out of the library but I’ve got a bit of a backlog ...


Kivrin | 455 comments G33z3r wrote: "Kivrin wrote: "Ugh! I always shudder at what Eric does to Corwin! I hated him for that. My memories of this book are very vivid especially this section."

For the degree of disfigurement, it's actu..."


Maybe it's because I first read it when I was young, and the horror has stuck with me. To have your eyes burned out then continue to live! Ugh! I'm sure I've seen a lot worse on TWD, but this image sticks with me.


Kivrin | 455 comments So do you think Corwin is just a better "man" than his brothers or did his long exile from Amber really change him? He acknowledges that in the past he would have been quicker to kill and seek revenge than he is now. Do you think it is just that he's older and wiser, or that living for so long as something other than a prince of Amber, he's learned to empathize with lesser mortals (shadows)?


message 24: by Jim (new) - rated it 1 star

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2178 comments Kivrin wrote: "So do you think Corwin is just a better "man" than his brothers or did his long exile from Amber really change him? He acknowledges that in the past he would have been quicker to kill and seek reve..."

That's a tough & personal question, especially by the end of the The Courts of Chaos. (view spoiler) I've always liked him better, especially as a central character & was very disappointed the way his character is handled in the 2d 5 books.


message 25: by [deleted user] (last edited Aug 23, 2018 05:37AM) (new)

Kivrin wrote: "So do you think Corwin is just a better "man" than his brothers?"

Well, comparing him to his brothers sets a pretty low bar.

Let's see... Corwin goes off into shadow and convinces a couple of hundred thousand sentient beings that he's a god (which, given the abilities of the Amber blood, is not far from the mark) and brings them to fight his war, getting them all killed (plus another couple of hundred thousand Brand has collected.)

Why is Corwin after the crown? Power & ego, it seems. It's not like he has some 12-point plan to improve the economy or bring peace to the Shadows. And he's prepared to throw away a lot of lives to make it happen. I'm not seeing a lot of empathy there.

On the other side, in the fleet battle, he considers surrender rather than letting his last two dozen men be killed. 100,000 deaths too late, one could argue. And he doesn't actually get a chance to do it, so who knows if he would?

And, finally, he tosses his Trumps to Brand Bleys when Brand Bleys falls from the mountain, a gesture that might save him, at some later cost to himself. He questions his own motives for that impulsive act.

Edit: Bleys not Brand.


message 26: by Jim (new) - rated it 1 star

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2178 comments Bleys, not Brand.


message 27: by Jim (new) - rated it 1 star

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2178 comments I just noticed that it says I rated this book with 1 star when I post here. That's really misleading. I originally read the Avon edition of this book & have it rated at 5 stars. It's an old favorite. I rated the Sunset Audio edition with 1 star because there was a lot of background noise & sound effects that were awful even though it was narrated by Zelazny who usually does a good job.


Donald | 157 comments G33z3r wrote: "To me, Amber is more a series to like based on the setting concept, and the characters are just there to expose it."

That's what I remember taking out of it as well - the characters were sketches to push along exploration of the world, and doubly so for anyone other than Corwin. It definitely worked for me though.


Roger Not too much that I can add to this conversation, I enjoyed the book as well even though, as G33z3r points out, Corwin isn't exactly a hero but not really a villain either. Normally I much prefer books that are good vs evil with the good guys winning, but Zelazny writes well and keeps you entertained. Also, can't say I hate the author's first name either :)


Michael | 152 comments Yes, Corwin is almost an anti hero to start with, but I think his gradual redemption through the course of the story saves him from that classification.


message 31: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea | 2567 comments It's interesting when the story starts that Corwin himself doesn't know if he's a good or a bad guy, not that bad guys know they are bad, they usually feel justified in some way for doing what they do.

Corwin doesn't even seem to have a good (or any) motivation for wanting the throne. He knows he doesn't want Eric to have it, so is he trying to protect the people from Eric or just wants to spite Eric? He certainly doesn't seem to have any plans for the power he'd get if he got the throne.


message 32: by Jim (new) - rated it 1 star

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2178 comments Andrea wrote: "Corwin doesn't even seem to have a good (or any) motivation for wanting the throne. He knows he doesn't want Eric to have it, ..."

Good catch. Keep that thought in mind.


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) Kivrin wrote: "So do you think Corwin is just a better "man" than his brothers or did his long exile from Amber really change him? He acknowledges that in the past he would have been quicker to kill and seek revenge than he is now. Do you think it is just that he's older and wiser, or that living for so long as something other than a prince of Amber, he's learned to empathize with lesser mortals (shadows)? "

That IS a great question. I personally think both are true; he's grown older and wiser and is also changed from his experiences during his exile. The impression I got was that as a godlike being he didn't care much about the lives of mortals until he went to live among them and, after losing his memory during (I think) the plague he actually thought he was a mortal.


Kivrin | 455 comments Andrea wrote: "It's interesting when the story starts that Corwin himself doesn't know if he's a good or a bad guy, not that bad guys know they are bad, they usually feel justified in some way for doing what they..."

After thinking about it some more, I think, at least in the beginning, Corwin really wants revenge on Eric more than anything else. Taking the throne away from a brother he hates is his true motivation for most of the book.


Kivrin | 455 comments Randy wrote: "That IS a great question. I personally think both are true; he's grown older and wiser and is also changed from his experiences during his exile. The impression I got was that as a godlike being he didn't care much about the lives of mortals until he went to live among them and, after losing his memory during (I think) the plague he actually thought he was a mortal."

I think that Corwin shows more feeling for "shadows" than many of his brothers do because of his experiences while he didn't know who he was.

I've always thought that living an immortal life can make you so cynical and jaded that you see others as less than you so you treat them that way. Corwin's brush with (what he believed to be) a mortal life gives him a different perspective.


message 36: by RJ - Slayer of Trolls (last edited Aug 29, 2018 06:40PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) Kivrin wrote: "I've always thought that living an immortal life can make you so cynical and jaded that you see others as less than you so you treat them that way. Corwin's brush with (what he believed to be) a mortal life gives him a different perspective."

It's interesting to contrast Corwin's attitude to the attitude of the Meths in our group read from earlier this year Altered Carbon.


message 37: by [deleted user] (new)

Randy wrote: "Kivrin wrote: "I've always thought that living an immortal life can make you so cynical and jaded that you see others as less than you so you treat them that way."

It's interesting to contrast Corwin's attitude to the attitude of the Meths in our group read from earlier this year Altered Carbon. ..."


I dunno, the Meths didn't exactly seem like great humanitarians, either (though they didn't kill nearly as many as Corwin.)


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) I guess I meant that Corwin's attitude towards humans improves over time whereas the Meths seem to become more jaded.


message 39: by [deleted user] (new)

Randy wrote: "I guess I meant that Corwin's attitude towards humans improves over time whereas the Meths seem to become more jaded."

OK, yeah, the older (and wealthier) the Meths get, the less they see the rest of the population as... human. Their depredations against others are more individual, so maybe more inhumane.

OTOH, that distinction reminds me of the quote attributed to Stalin: "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic." or, from Best Served Cold, "Hero: That’s what they call you when you kill so many people the word murderer falls short."


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) Jim, I think I remember you saying once that Zelazny put puns in each of his books. I didn't catch the pun in this book. Do you know if there was one that I missed?


message 41: by Jim (new) - rated it 1 star

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2178 comments I do not recall what it was in this book beyond the title & premise, Randy.


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) Jim wrote: "...beyond the title & premise...."

Is the title and premise a pun? If so I must be dense because it goes completely over my head.


message 43: by Jim (new) - rated it 1 star

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2178 comments Think of a bug in amber - stuck, right? Amber is unchanging, but the source (as far as they know at this point) of all shadows. It's not a death trap, but a source of life. The nine princes all vie for an unchanging city when they can go anywhere & do anything. They're only stuck by their own desires.


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) Jim wrote: "Think of a bug in amber - stuck, right? Amber is unchanging, but the source (as far as they know at this point) of all shadows. It's not a death trap, but a source of life. The nine princes all vie..."

Hmmm. That's not as good as "High Dudgeon" in Jack of Shadows.


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