Saturday, October 29, 2016

Nine Princes in Amber, chapters 8-10

Chapter 8: Corwin is dragged out of his cell to attend Eric's coronation feast.  Despite being disruptive at every turn, he is forced by Julian to crown Eric.  Instead, Corwin sets the crown on his own head and claims the throne.  After the resultant beating, Eric finally ascends to the throne of Amber and orders Corwin's eyes to be burned out.

In his wrath and suffering, Corwin curses Eric, an act that scars Substance and Shadow.

After an unmeasured time of darkness and hanger, Rein, a jester elevated to a knight by Corwin's earlier instruction, visits in secret to deliver fresh food, wine, and cigarettes to Corwin.  After catching up on current events in Amber, Corwin forbids him from returning.

On the anniversary of Eric's coronation, Corwin is cleaned up and brought to the feast.  He eats and drinks his fill, ignored by all.

***

Chapter 9: Over the next four years, Rein visits Corwin regularly, bringing care packages and news.  Strange violent things walk the Shadows.  At the end of one visit, Corwin realizes that he is regrowing his eyes.  He now must escape before the next anniversary of Eric's coronation, or be blinded again.

Corwin attempts to escape by digging a way out with a spoon but is interrupted by a visit from a fellow captive, Dworkin, the designer of the Trumps.  After learning of Dworkin's ability to walk through Substance like it was Shadow, Corwin convinces him to etch a drawing of the Lighthouse of Cabra onto the prison wall.  The image is lifelike enough for Corwin to use it like a Trump and escape.

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Chapter 10:  Corwin recovers in the lighthouse for three months.  Before he leaves, he sees the damage done to Amber and Shadow by his curse.  He then sails into Shadow, but not before sending a challenge to Eric.  The Throne of Amber remains contested.

***

Nine Princes in Amber serves as the first act in the five volume Corwin cycle.  As such it contains our introduction to the City of Amber in Corwin's failed attempt to obtain its throne.  It also contains the inciting action for the series in Corwin's curse, which creates a way into Amber that its enemies in the Courts of Chaos can exploit.

For all of Corwin's significant power and ability, it is clear that his victories are dependent on his kindnesses shown to those of lesser station.  Without offering protection to Random, the black sheep of the family, Corwin would not have reached Rebma and would have remained Carl Corey.  By previously elevating Reim from jester to balladeer and then finally knight, Corwin would have been deprived of comfort and news in his captivity.  The kindnesses shown to Dworkin and the lighthouse keeper at Cabra enable his escape from Amber.  When Corwin's victories are not directly enabled by another person, they follow a show of compassion.  Before Corwin walked the Pattern, he convinced Random not to walk out on Vialle of Rebma, an act that would also provide comfort during Corwin's of a different kind than Rein's.  Corwin's escapes through the Trumps also follow kindnesses, whether through favor shown to old retainers or attempts to minimize the casualties of his men.  In all these cases, Corwin shows grace as the stronger party to a weaker.  It is also telling that the greatest failures in the story come from Corwin relying on his own strength, whether it be his defeat, blinding, captivity, or the evils inflicted on Shadow and Substance by his curse.  His one great success by his own hand, leaving the hospital in the beginning of the book, was even the work of amnesiac Carl Corey, and not by the strength of the restored Corwin of Amber.

I have recently come across biographies of Zelazny that show that he studied Elizabethan drama in college.  Not only does this explain the five act structure used in the Chronicles of Amber, a common feature of the plays of Shakespeare's day, it also helps inform Zelazny's love of literature and literary references, which becomes evident in the next book, The Guns of Avalon.

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I had originally selected Nine Princes of Amber based on how vivid the detective pulp introduction gave it a sense of reality not seen in many recent fantasies.  And I marveled at Corey's successful bluffing of his family without having memories of any of his siblings.  After the reread, I still think that the introduction is the strongest part of the book, but Corwin's escape and the curse on Amber are also hook enough to continue reading the series.

3 comments:

  1. I agree with the your last paragraph. I also think the beginning and the end are the best parts of the book.

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  2. I was introduced to Amber with Guns of Avalon; it was compelling enough that I sought out 9 Princes at the library and then caught the rest of the series as it was serialized in a magazine, Analog, I think.

    Do you intend to review the Guns of Avalon? I've always viewed the two as being parts of the same book. I'm curious as to what you think of Guns of Avalon.

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    1. Who knows what December or January might bring? If not, I might take a look at the entire Corwin Cycle on my own blog.

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