Back in Amber

To say that Roger Zelazny’s Amber books were an influence on me is like saying Donald Trump doesn’t care to admit when he’s wrong.

Nine Princes in Amber original cover
The original Doubleday 1st edition. Quite rare these days, but definitely the one I picked off the shelves of the Council Bluffs Public Library.

I’ve just completed what has become an annual winter tradition: a re-read/re-listen to all ten books, usually while shoveling snow and hanging Christmas lights.

“Nine Princes in Amber” was published in 1970. I probably stumbled on it in 1973 or 1974, which means I’ve read the series something on the order of thirty times. It is the single greatest influence on “Traveler,” both in its sardonic, first-person narrative style, and overall theme. Trav’s mental process of moving between reality streams is a direct descendant of Corwin’s hellrides through Shadow. 

A rare stumble by the great artist Boris Vallejo. Everyone knows Corwin's colors are black and silver. Geez.
This cover is a rare stumble by the great artist Boris Vallejo. Everyone knows Corwin’s colors are black and silver. Geez.

But it’s the collected set of all five of the “Corwin Cycle” of Amber stories in the two volumes with the bad cover that’s the one that I have read again and again So many times that I wore out the dust jackets and have purchased backup copies (In addition to all ten audiobooks. More about that in a minute).

When the third book in the series, “Sign of the Unicorn,” was serialized in Galaxy magazine, it even got me into trouble with my mom. An installment arrived at the same time as her brother, on a rare visit from the West Coast. I was way too distracted to hold up my end of the conversation.

The one and only cosplay in my entire life? You guessed it. Corwin of Amber, complete with a silver rose clasp on my cloak.

The second set of five books, featuring Corwin’s son Merlin, aren’t quite as strong. But I’ve come to appreciate them a little more in recent re-reads. Might be partly nostalgia.

But let’s not talk about the estate-authorized prequels, written after Zelazny’s death, and against his oft-expressed wishes. All that’s missing is Jar-Jar.

I turned my son Alex on to the series pretty much as soon as he graduated from picture books, and thoroughly indoctrinated him. It was Alex who cottoned on to the audiobooks and recommended I take a listen. It was like reading them for the first time all over again.

The narrator, Alessandro Juliani, best known as Felix Gaeta on Battlestar Galactica, is fabulous. If there was an Academy Award for book narration, he should win it hands-down. He gives each of the nine princes their own identity, and captures Corwin perfectly. Wil Wheaton takes over for the Merlin cycle, and does a more than adequate job, even if he’s not Juliani’s equal. Although Wil’s pronunciation of one character’s name JEHR-ard is grating. Plain-spoken Gerard would never have been so ostentatious.

The only downside is paying full price for each book. All ten hardly add up to even one Game of Thrones! This is great for Audible. For me, not so much. But I will consider it an investment in their ongoing effort to record classic sci-fi.

I often say that one of the nice things about getting older is that you can re-read your favorite books again and again, blissfully surprised by the plot twists you’ve forgotten.

If I’m lucky, I’ll get another twenty or so trips to Amber in before I embark on my own journey to Shadow.

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