Nine Princes in Amber
Dust-jacket illustration from the first edition
|Cover artist||Amelia S. Edwards|
|Series||The Chronicles of Amber|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|Followed by||The Guns of Avalon|
Nine Princes in Amber is a new wave fantasy novel and the first in the Chronicles of Amber series by Roger Zelazny. It was first published in 1970, and later spawned a computer game of the same name. The first (Doubleday hardcover) edition of the novel is unusually rare; the publisher pulped a significant part of the original print run in error when the order went out to destroy remaining copies of Zelazny's older book Creatures of Light and Darkness.
In the story, Carl Corey wakes up in a secluded New York hospital with amnesia. He escapes and investigates, discovering the truth, piece by piece: he is really Prince Corwin, of Amber, the one true world of which our Earth is just a shadow. He is one of nine men who might rule Amber, if he can fight his way past the armies of his older brother Eric.
Carl Corey wakes in a medical clinic, with little to no knowledge of who he is or how he got there. He suspects he is being over-medicated, so he overpowers the nurse and security guard and escapes his room. He finds the manager of the clinic, and learns that he was recovering from a car accident in a private clinic, paid for by his sister, Evelyn Flaumel.
He flees and heads to her house. She addresses him as Corwin and calls herself Flora. Hiding his lack of knowledge about what she is saying, he convinces her to let him stay. In Flora's library he locates a set of customised Tarot cards— the Trumps—whose Major Arcana are replaced with images which he recognises as his family. As he looks over the cards he remembers all his brothers and sisters: sneaky Random, Julian the hunter, well-built Gérard, the arrogant Eric, himself, Benedict the master tactician and swordsman, sinister Caine, scheming Bleys, and the mysterious Brand. He also views his four sisters: Flora who offered him sanctuary, Deirdre who was dear to him, reserved Llewella, and Fiona, whom Corwin hated.
His brother Random contacts him via telephone and Corwin promises to give him protection. Random arrives, pursued by mysterious spined, bloodshot-eyed humanoid creatures, and the combined efforts of Corwin, Random, and Flora's dogs ultimately defeat them. Random then asks Corwin whether he wishes to walk the road to Amber, from which Corwin agrees, despite the fact he does not know what he is doing. The world changes around them, and Corwin realises that Random is somehow causing the changes in order for them to proceed to Amber. They ultimately end up in the Forest of Arden, the territory of their brother Julian. Julian's beasts confront Random and Corwin and eventually Julian himself appears on his steed Morgenstern to take them himself. Corwin dismounts Julian and takes him prisoner. After taking information from Julian he lets him live, saving himself from the remainder of Julian's men who were awaiting Corwin in the forest. While traveling they encounter Corwin's sister Deirdre who reveals she fled from Eric's court. Fully confused at this point, Corwin reveals that he has no memory of what they have been doing or of who he is so Deirdre convinces him to walk the Pattern, which she believes will restore his memory.
The three then travel to Rebma, a reflection of Amber underwater, and there they meet their sister Llewella and Moire, the queen of Rebma. Moire originally believes that the three of them came to Rebma to seek support to defeat Eric but Deirdre explains their true intentions. Because Rebma is a reflection of Amber, there is also a reflection of the Pattern in Rebma, which Corwin is to walk to restore his memory. Although Random is impounded for past crimes in Rebma and sentenced to wed a blind girl named Vialle, Corwin convinces the queen Moire to allow him to walk the Pattern. After receiving advice from Random and Deirdre, he walks the Pattern, reliving all of his past life, which stretches back to his time in Amber and when Eric deposited him in Elizabethan England on our Earth. He remembers the powers which his heritage and the Pattern grant him - the power to walk through shadow, and to pronounce a powerful curse before dying. After he completes the Pattern he uses its power to project himself into the Castle of Amber, from which he finds a safe spot and rests.
Afterwards he searches the castle and in the library finds a pack of the Trumps and also an old servant friend. However, Eric finds them and the two begin to duel. Although intimidated at first by Eric's immense skill, Corwin gets the upper hand in the fight and injures Eric on the arm. Corwin would have won the battle and slain his brother had not the soldiers of the castle realized what was happening and moved to protect Eric. Corwin retreats and using a Trump, contacts his brother Bleys who agrees to harbor him and teleports Corwin to his location. Corwin then agrees to aid Bleys in his attempts to assault Amber and defeat Eric and gathers a large group of warriors from Shadow and assembles a navy, while Bleys creates an army on land. From here Corwin attempts to contact his brothers, looking for allies. Caine, although supporting Eric, gives Corwin a promise of safe passage by sea, as does his brother Gérard. He is unable to contact Benedict but when he attempts to reach Brand, he views him in a prison and Brand desperately asks Corwin to free him before his image disappears. Using a Trump, Corwin then attempts to contact his father Oberon, who has been missing for centuries, and makes contact with him. Oberon encourages him to seize the throne but the contact is eventually lost. When he contacts Random, Random reveals that Eric has contacted him and revealed the full extent of his defenses, which are vast and powerful. Furthermore, Random tells Corwin that Eric has gained control over the mysterious Jewel of Judgment, which allows him to control the weather among other things. Despite Random's misgivings, Corwin remains resolute in his desire to attack Amber with Bleys.
As the invasion begins, Corwin travels with the navy by sea but finds Caine waiting for him with a superior force, apparently in violation of their agreement. Eric then contacts Corwin by Trump, who reveals that he knew about his plans from Caine and the two engage in a mental duel which Corwin is unable to break from. After exchanging taunts, Corwin launches a full mental assault on Eric, which defeats him and leaves him with the knowledge that Corwin is his superior. Corwin then joins in the battle although it is hopeless: Caine's forces are already destroying Corwin's navy and he escapes by using a Trump to move him to Bleys and his army. Bleys has been constantly assaulted by creatures of Shadow and the poor weather conditions that have been created by Eric's usage of the Jewel of Judgment. Although they eventually reach Amber, their forces have dwindled and they barely fight their way up Kolvir, the mountain on which the Castle of Amber is situated. Bleys is ultimately pushed off a cliff, although Corwin throws him his pack of Trumps to allow him to escape the fall. Corwin then uses his few remaining forces and pushes through, eventually breaching to the castle itself, although, before he reaches the throne, his forces are surrounded, and he ultimately is captured.
Corwin is brought forth in chains to endure Eric's coronation. Julian, who is at Eric's side, instructs Corwin to hand the crown of Amber to Eric, who will crown himself King of the one true world. Corwin instead crowns himself King of Amber, but he is quickly beaten by the guards and eventually throws the crown at Eric. Eric then crowns himself, and sentences Corwin to be imprisoned, and his eyes burned out.
In his prison beneath the city, Corwin is driven to near insanity, although the visits and smuggled gifts of his friend Lord Rein help him to maintain his spirit and his hope. After a year has passed in blindness and solitude, he is let out to eat at Eric's table on the anniversary of the coronation before being thrown into the dungeons again. After years have passed, Corwin's eyesight begins to regenerate, and he begins an escape attempt by whittling the door with a spoon he stole from Eric's table. Before he can escape in this manner, Dworkin, the keeper of the Pattern, appears out of nowhere, having seemingly walked through the dungeon wall from a neighboring cell. He explains that he entered Corwin's cell by drawing a picture on the dungeon wall and walking through it, and wishes to return in the same way. Corwin gives him the spoon in order to draw a Trump image on the wall, and persuades him to draw the Lighthouse of Cabra on the opposite wall. With this, Corwin projects himself out of his prison.
At the Lighthouse of Cabra he meets Jopin, the keeper of the lighthouse but he does not reveal his true identity to him. Jopin cares for Corwin and Corwin aids Jopin in his activities around the lighthouse. Once he is fully recovered, Jopin recognises Corwin, and shows him that the Vale of Garnath, previously a pleasant valley adjacent to Amber, has become a warped and twisted evil place. Corwin takes Jopin's craft Butterfly and sails away, while sending a message to Eric via a black bird, stating that he will return to claim the throne.
The Machiavellian royal family of Amber is headed by Oberon, the former king, now absent. His five daughters are Florimel, Deirdre, Fiona, Llewella, and Coral (who doesn't come into play until book 9) but the major players of the novel are the nine princes of the title:
- Benedict. The oldest surviving prince; uninvolved in the current struggle for the crown. The master tactician of the family and a man who seldom smiles. Presumed to be dead by the rest of the family.
- Corwin. The protagonist. A cross between a cruel rogue and a reluctant poet, his years on Earth seem to have softened him somewhat. "And remember who it was who gave you your life where another would have taken it."
- Eric. The arrogant yet competent would-be king of Amber; he commands the loyalty of Julian, Caine and Gérard.
- Caine. Calculating and realistic.
- Bleys. Dashing and charming; Corwin's other ally in his fight against Eric.
- Brand. Like Oberon, mysteriously unavailable. "There was a quality of both strength and weakness, questing and abandonment about him."
- Julian. A sinister hunter. "I enjoy slaughtering beasts and I think of my relatives constantly."
- Gérard. Physically strongest of the nine, affable and liked even by his enemies.
- Random. A sneaky rascal albeit Corwin's ally. A gambler and the youngest of Oberon's children.
- "...And Call Me Roger": The Literary Life of Roger Zelazny, Part 3, by Christopher S. Kovacs. In: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume 3: This Mortal Mountain, NESFA Press, 2009.
- Levack, Daniel J. H. (1983). Amber Dreams: A Roger Zelazny Bibliography. San Francisco: Underwood/Miller. pp. 56–58. ISBN 0-934438-39-0.