Friday, September 23, 2011

Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny

This novel is the first in a series of ten chronicles of Amber, written by Zelazny. A group of authors tried to work within the shared world many years later, but didn't produce anything that even came close to matching Zelazny's brilliance.

The story begins in Greenwood Sanitarium, where a man awakens, both legs in casts and with no memory of how he arrived there. It has a bit of a Bourne Identity flavor at first, as he comes to believe he has been kept sedated in order to keep him out of the way of...something. He refuses his meds, and assaults a guard who comes to force him to take them, taking the man's clothes, then intimidates the head of the facility into giving him some information - his name is Carl Corey and his "sister" Evelyn Flaumel has committed him - and some money from the safe. Carl beats feet out of town and heads for upstate New York, where his sister lives.

Still clueless about who he is, Corey manages to trick Evelyn into revealing bits and pieces of crucial information without letting her know about his amnesia. It appears that someone named Eric will not be pleased to hear that Corey has escaped. Evelyn, whose real name, Flora, comes to Corey in a moment of insight, has been sent to the area to keep an eye on him and report if he seems to be regaining his memory. She also calls him by his real name, Corwin. Flora gives him a meal and a place to stay for a while, but while she is off on business during the day, Corwin does some snooping around the house and discovers an odd deck of playing cards hidden in a secret drawer. The Trumps of this deck are painted pictures of a large family, in medieval, court dress, and he is on one of the cards, as is Flora and others whose names he slowly begins to recall.

His sneaking about is interrupted by a phone call from a man called Random, who is one of his brothers, and who is fleeing from some shadowy characters. When he arrives at Flora's house, Corwin discovers that he and his siblings are extraordinarily strong and well-versed in the arts martial, when the three of them dispatch a half dozen thugs with little trouble. Corwin dupes Random into taking him away, and they begin a road trip that rapidly gets strange, as the lands through which they travel rapidly come to resemble no place known on Earth.

It turns out that Corwin is one of nine princes of the realm of Amber.

"Amber was the greatest city which had ever existed or ever would exist. Amber had always been and always would be, and every other city, everywhere, every other city that existed was but a reflection of a shadow of some phase of Amber."

He and Random attempt to reach Amber, but find their way blocked. Along the way they rescue their sister, Deirdre, who has escaped from Eric's hold on her and the city. They make their way to the underwater city of Rebma, where Random is imprisoned for crimes he committed there long ago, and Corwin is allowed to walk the reflection of The Pattern there. The Pattern is a magical creation which gives the royal family of Amber the ability to walk among the Shadows cast by Amber, which includes all the possible worlds, including Earth. Walking the pattern restores Corwin's memory, and sets him on a quest to wrest the kingdom from the usurper, Eric.

An excellent tale, full of sorcery and chivalry and incredible creatures and people.

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