Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Hardboiled Fantasy

Now this is how a game of thrones should be played, by vicious backstabbing political princes with ever-shifting alliances and a whole lot less rape. 

Source: Ayej (DeviantArt Page)
Roger Zelazny is one of those authors who has largely flown under my radar.  His books were a staple of the used-book stores for a long time, thanks largely to the Amber series.  Never in a position to pick up the full series, his has been a name filed away for future reading, so it was with some gratitude that I saw Nathan had chosen it.

Amusingly, looking at a bibliography just now to confirm how little of his work I have read, two names jumped out at me.  One book is set in Saberhagen's 'Berzerker' universe and the second, of all things, is 'Damnation Alley'.  That was a blast from decades past.  I recall enjoying the movie as a young child, and reading the book years later only to be surprised at how much more sense everything made in the book.  I was young.

For me, Nine Princes in Amber got off to a bit of a rocky start.  The gimmick of an amnesiac protagonist, Corwin, learning of his past the same way the reader does - through slow and subtle discovery - may have been relatively new at the time the book was written, but it's been done so often now that I wondered what Nathan had signed us up for.  That lasted until the amnesiac pulled a neat trick and effected an escape as clever as it is sudden and brutal.

The book's tone pulls a neat trick of its own, speaking with a very Dashielle Hammet style in the modern setting, and slowly fading into a more mythic and fairy-tale-ish tone the closer Corwin gets to Amber.  Corwin seems to share the attitude of 'regretful willingness to do violence to get what he needs' of most hardboiled detectives, too.  The frequent questioning of himself and concern for others that he counts a weakness adds to that feeling.

Another feeling that the book evoked in this reader is the feeling of datedness.  Whenever else one considers Amber to exist, there's no doubt that Corwin is a product of the 1970s.  He and his siblings drink and smoke constantly, even in a dank prison, and he commonly uses the verb 'to dig' as a synonym for 'to understand'.  Use of the 1970s slang jangled against the gentle dreaminess of most conversation set in Amber, and pulled this reader out of the story.  A minor quibble, but given how well the book is written, and how well it stands the test of time otherwise, that particular slang term stands out as a uniquely proud nail.

I'm not too thrilled that the book ends on such an obvious cliffhanger, even as I understood going in that it was the first of a series.  Corwin is an agreeable protagonist, and the conflict had been nicely setup to the point that the remaining books in the series are now on my 'must read' list.  Somewhere.  I may have to select 'The Guns of Avalon' as my next Puppy of the Month, just to squeeze it in.

If September's posts are anything to go by, Frisky and Nate will open our eyes to all of the subtle references in the book, and its sequel move from 'must read' to 'must read now'.


  1. I believe Nine Princess and The Guns of Avalon should be read as a single book.

    1. Good point; that makes for a much more satisfying read.

  2. Well, November is your month to choose...I certainly wouldn't complain if Guns of Avalon gets the nod.

  3. Just finished Nine Princes in Amber! Good pick, chaps. I'll be blogging some thoughts on it soon.