Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Nine Princes in Amber, Chapter 3

Chapter 3: The next day, Corwin spends time in Flora's library attempting to jog his memory.  While the source of his family's wealth remains hidden, he discovers a knack for the medical and military arts.  Not content with only those discoveries, his investigation turns into outright snooping.  In a hidden compartment of Flora's desk, he discovers a deck of tarot-inspired playing cards.  He finds a picture of one of his brothers and sisters on each of the Greater Trumps, but notices some are missing.  Handling the cards creates a air of nostalgia for Amber, but memories of the city remain closed to him.

After dinner, Random tries to call Flora on the phone, but Corwin answers instead.  Random is shocked to hear Corwin, but is in a spot of trouble so he asks for Corwin's protection.  The black sheep of Amber tells Corwin that he is on his way, but through a circling route in shadow.  Corwin perceives that Amber itself is at the heart of Random's troubles.  He then sleeps off a growing headache.

Waking Corwin, Flora sounds him out about the state of affairs in Amber.  Corwin cuts her off by stating she is missing some Trumps.  Flora panics and begs Corwin to give them back.  After regaining her composure, she also accuses him of blocking her attempt to report to Eric.  Despite her frustrations, Flora holds a measure of respect for what she perceives as Corwin's skill at out-maneuvering her.  She then provokes Corwin into declaring that he will try for the throne of Amber, although he is not aware of exactly what he has agreed to.  She immediately starts scheming.  A chime interrupts her as Random arrives at the mansion.


While it would be interesting to see what tarot card corresponds to what prince or princess of Amber, none of the tarot titles, such as The Emperor, The Chariot, or the Fool, are associated to any of the characters, despite the fan-made Amber tarots in existence.  Rather, the Trumps function similar to the paintings of the Endless in the Sandman comics.  Both are used to communicate and even summon family members.  (Similarities between the Court of Amber and the Endless abound.  One can easily deduce the influence of Amber upon the comics.)  At this stage of the story, the cards are used to introduce each of the living princes and princesses of Amber, Corwin's relationships with each, and a potential tragedy in the missing cards.

At first blush, Random's name seems out of step with the general English and French naming convention for the Court of Amber.  However, it's etymology is that of Old French.  It does, however, still reek of Purposeful Naming, a trope that has since grown into a cliche.  In addition to its current meaning, the word random has been used to denote impetuousness and even a sense of shunned outsidership.  Random does live down to his name, as we will soon see.

For all the intrigues among the Court of Amber, the members are quite trusting of each other. Also taken for granted is Random's swift cross-country trip.  While the powers available to a prince of Amber have yet to be explicitly stated, we already have clues to their superhuman skills.


Nine Princes is Amber is part of Dungeons and Dragons' Appendix N, a collection of fantasy works spanning fifty years that inspired the game. As such, it often gets lumped in with the pulp fantasies, even though it is among the newest works in Appendix N, and the pulps are among the oldest.  Pulp influence is certain, as Corwin's escape from the hospital would not be out of place in a film noir movie.  But is it in the pulp tradition or just pulp flavored?

Let's use Misha Burnett's "Five Pillars of the Pulp Revival" to examine Nine Princes in Amber, as read up to this point, to find out.  While Misha is quick to point out that the pillars are a work-in-progress, many in the Pulp Reformation have found the Five Pillars to be a useful description of what makes pulp stories stand out.  Besides, all good ideas need testing.

The Five Pillars are:

Action - With the exception of the escape from the hospital in Greenwood, most of the story so far has been focused on Corwin's memories and impressions.  However, we have already seen that Corwin can act decisively and is no stranger to violence.  Furthermore, little actions enliven the dialogue.  Flora is never just scared or happy; she is clutching her dog-whistle or covering Corwin in sisterly kisses.  Her actions underscore the dialogue in a clinic on the old adage, "Show, don't tell."

Impact - We've yet to see much impact to Corwin's actions by the end of Chapter 3.  So far, the story has been about who Corwin is instead of what Corwin does.  Also, his amnesia shrouds his previous actions from the readers.  However, with Corwin's declaration to try to outmaneuver Eric and Random's arrival at Flora's mansion, this will soon change.

Moral Peril - Corwin has yet to be placed in any serious physical peril, much less any moral peril.

Mystery - Whether it is Corwin's continued discovery of who he is, the thirteen members of his family, or Amber itself, mystery abounds at this stage of the novel.

Romance - While Flora might have a fondness for her brother, Corwin's love at this point is the dim recollections of Amber.  This affection is just a feeling, and hasn't been embodied in any individual.

At this point, it is too early to declare if Nine Princes in Amber is a member of the pulp tradition, although we can confirm the presence of two of the Five Pillars of pulp.  Let's revisit this examination in a later post.


  1. The scenes with Corwin bluffing his way through conversation with Flora were incredible. The high wire act Corwin was forced to walk by his paranoia made the anticipated reveal of who and what he really was that much more interesting. The drama inherent in a protagonist having to convince people he knows more than he really does is probably one of the most underutilized tricks in the book.

  2. And oddly enough, we'll see that Corwin's Moral Peril is actually a bit of a subversion itself. His amnesia results in his turning from a stone-cold killer to a much more empathic leader who at least cares for the peons who die in his service. The way he honorably treats the last few troops to fight in the naval assault on Amber - and his own amazement that he would be so touched by their sacrifice - is another favorite moment of mine from the book.

    Come to think of it, there's quite a few of those.