Review: Nine Princes in Amber aka I don't like old "Classics"
This book is a "classic" and its becoming increasingly clear that I just can't get into fantasy from before like 1980. I don't know what that says about me. So let's just get it out there that I didn't enjoy this and then move on to, in general, what I don't like about books like this.
Show and Tell
Nine Princes in Amber was first psublished in 1970, but it takes a lot of its style from even older stories from the start of the 1900s written by the like of Edgar R. Buroughs and even all the way back to the 19th century with the words of Arthur Conan Doyle. The narrative style of all of these works is always very removed. In most cases it's presented as a written account by one of the characters instead of the more common internal narration of modern fiction. Zelazny uses that to great effect in his world building, as the format allows for a lot of descriptive text. The problem comes when he uses this short cut for character development and plot movement. It makes it very hard for me to get invested in characters and motivation when I don't get the perspective of the characters from dialogue and detailed scene descriptions. I think this novel specifically is a great indication of how contentious the common advice of "Show don't Tell" is a shifting balance that moves through the generational shifts in taste.
The Bravado of the Main Character
I don't think of the main character as infallible or some kind of Marty Stu or whatever the popular male version of that overused turn of phrase. Corwin makes plenty of mistakes and often finds himself in situations that seem to get him in over his head. The problem is that, due to the first person perspective, I don't think that Corwin ever believes himself to be in over his head. Which wouldn't be a problem except that it's happening all the time, and often he's rewarded for his bull headed confidence with unexpected results. Maybe if it was supposed to be funny it would be different, but instead it gets old fast.
This extends to character interactions. Corwin's intense certainty that the world should bow to him leads to the same awkward exchange over and over where his domineering spirit is the thing that cinches him victory instead of the strength of his argument or position. It's worse with women. I'm going to limit this to the character and not speak to the thoughts of the author, of which I'm not aware of, but what Corwin does to women in this book is gross, and evaporated what little empathy the character had manage to engender in the first few chapters. To be honest I had the same problem with Dragon Rider's of Pern, Princess of Mars, and The Demolished Man. It's not limited to Zelazny.
Was it World War 2? Was it the live of people growing up during the great depression? What was it that made these authors such a downer? This one ends in total failure, and not feeling super enthused about the main character watching him gain nothing at the end of the novel cemented my decision to not move on through the series. It's a not uncommon end for series started at the time. I don't get it. Maybe my brain has been hardwired to look for the dower second chapter in a series but I do like to see the MC have some kind of success by the end. This book just stopped me dead in my tracks.
So that's it. I think I'm going to still try and read through some of the other entries of the pre-80s catalogue that exists, but I'm gonna stick to my modern tales for the most part in 2017. Got a different opinion? Stick in the comments why dontcha?