Nine Princes in Amber
Roger Zelazny, read by Alessandro Juliani
Audible Frontiers, 2012
I first came across Roger Zelazny’s Amber series when I played the Amber Diceless RPG my sophomore year of college. At the time, having only really played D&D it was sort of a revelation and its reliance on legitimate roleplaying (literally no dice to fall back on) was a bit of an adjustment though one that has positively influenced my approach to other RPGs since. It also remains one of my favorite RPG experiences to date. As the semester ended and our time in Amber was over I did what any self-respecting geek would do: went out about bought the enormous omnibus edition of all Zelazny’s Amber novels aka The Great Book of Amber. It was a strange experience having “lived” in Amber, so to speak, going back and reading the source material; a sensation that I’ve yet to replicate with other series. Now that I am years removed from that epic game of Amber and Audible had released newly recorded versions of the Amber books (though I still wish the author-read versions were available digitally) I’m slowly revisiting the series.
The first series of Amber books, starring Prince Corwin, are narrated by Alessandro Juliani. The premise of Amber is at once simple and complex. There is, at the heart of everything, a single great city that represents order: Amber. Everything beyond Amber (not everything, but lets not get there yet) is Shadow; pale imitations of Amber or parts of Amber. The sons and daughters of Amber, the children of Oberon, are not unlike Gods. They are faster, stronger, smarter, and longer lived than the denizens of shadow with various forms of magic including the ability to walk through and manipulate Shadows. At the opening of the first novel Corwin, a Prince of Amber, awakens with no memory of who or what he is. Despite this fact he is quickly drawn into the intrigues of his family as he begins to make alliances against his brother Eric who currently sits on the throne.
Nine Princes in Amber is a book about Corwin’s journey home as much as it is about his contest for the throne of Amber. Zelazny’s choice in using an amnesiac narrator allows readers to explore Amber through Corwin’s eyes while at the same color the prose with sense of something half-remembered. The novel also straddles the gap between prosaic and poetic offering modern sensibilities while increasingly drifting into the realm of the mythical and the epic. For the most part this works however, there are moments where Corwin’s musings feel a bit overwrought and the prose perhaps layered on a bit thick. I think that such moments would be easier to ignore while reading the book but hearing some of these lines spoken aloud can be a bit of an eye-rolling experience. That’s nothing against Alessandro Juliani’s narration, he can only work with what’s in front of him. Such instances are few and far between and Zelazny has a firm grip on the prose and Juliani’s ability to convey Corwin’s sense of wonder and wistfulness as he recaptures his memory is admirable.
Nine Princes in Amber isn’t a long novel coming it at 175 pages (about 5.5 hours in audio format) but despite its slim page count it manages to pack in a great deal of material. Conniving and scheming, big fights and large battles, and even a touch of romance Zelazny manages to pack it all in without ever feeling like he is glossing things over. Sure there is material left out, questions left unanswered, and a major cliffhanger ending but none of it feels unsatisfying despite leaving you eager to continue on to the next book. For a novel published in the 70s Nine Princes in Amber remains fairly current with relatively few quirks to mark its age and even with the better part of a decade since my last experience with novel it still remains entirely approachable to modern audiences. If you are a fan of fantasy and have yet to give this series a shot I highly recommend you pick up Nine Princes in Amber. Audible has done an amazing job with this series and Juliani’s crisp narration definitely helps propel the story forward this is a well deserved update to a classic novel.