Nine Princes in Amber
by Roger Zelazny
I promise that I don't set out to be unimpressed by the spectacularly popular and beloved books that my GR friends all give five stars.
It just sort of happens.
All the same, Amber was an enjoyable read. I especially appreciated the games of snark in the beginning, when the protagonist has lost his memory and is desperately trying to figure out what's going on without letting anyone else realize how clueless he is. As things drifted more and more towards high fantasy, however, the snark slowly abated, replaced by a truly awkward combination of Eighties American and What Eighties Americans Thought Medieval English Sounded Like.
There's nothing wrong with Amber. It was an entertaining enough read, and I quite enjoyed the beginning in particular. I'm not a big high-fantasy reader, so the sheer readability of the book was definitely a point in its favour. But for me, nothing stood out from the plethora of indistinguishable Baen or Roc ten-cent paperbacks from my childhood. Part of it was my fault; for me, the title summoned images of a kingdom literally suspended in time like an ancient fossil in amber, and the rather more mundane reality was something of a letdown. Honestly, the thing that maintained most of the suspense for me was trying to figure out what on earth Corwin actually had against Eric, and why he thought laying waste to all and sundry and setting himself up as king would improve matters. As he puts it,
"There was blood on every step for as far back as I could see. There's a moral there, somewhere."
It's hard to imagine a protagonist with a more ignoble quest. I also don't know anything about Tarot (except that it doesn't rhyme with "carrot") so I have no idea what each of the princes symbolized, if anything, and I was too lazy to go look up Tarot descriptions. I thought the Tarot card idea went some way to excusing the two-dimensionality of the characters, however, so there's that. Again, I repeat: I didn't see anything wrong with Amber; I was simply utterly baffled by the universal acclaim lavished upon the author and the series. Am I missing some crucial symbolism? Is it one of those series that picks up after the first book? Did I try the wrong series? Seriously, guys, am I missing out on something here?
And now that I've snarked about Name of the Wind, denigrated Ender's Game, and meh'd on Chronicles of Amber, I'm off to do a bit of kitten-squishing to make my descent into villainy complete.