Nine Princes in Amber
Author: Roger Zelazny
Publisher: Avon Books, 1977
First Published: 1972
The Voice of Corwin
Voice is an important element in any novel, and it shows best in a first person POV such as Nine Princes in Amber. Here, the voice is the driving force behind it all. From the beginning, it sets the tone for the story and shows the personality of the main character. But one thing about voice is that it has to be consistent and appropriate for the setting, and Corwin’s voice wavers between these two.
The story begins with Corwin, one of the Princes of Amber, who wakes up in a hospital suffering from amnesia. Any other person would be freaking out, but Corwin is cool and collected. He deduces something is wrong and immediately sets on a plan of escape. Corwin is ruthless—“I’d get what I needed and take what I wanted, and I’d remember those who helped me and step on the rest” (33)—and doesn’t care that people don’t like him—“Somehow, the feeling pleased me” (21). His voice is over-the-top and humorous, and his actions paint him as an act first-second-and-always kind of man. In just a few pages, we get a sense of who Corwin is because his voice is so distinctive and strong, but it doesn’t stay that way through the whole novel. There are two main aspects to Corwin’s voice.
Aspect 1: Fiery Corwin
This is the man we meet in the beginning, the one who gives boastful speeches, like the anger speech...
Very, very much would they pay. An anger, a terrible one, flared within the middle of my body. Anyone who tried to hurt me, to use me, did so at his own peril and now he would receive his due, whoever he was, this one. I felt a strong desire to kill, to destroy whoever had been responsible, and I knew that it was not the first time in my life that I had felt this thing, and I knew, too, that I had followed through on it in the past. More than once. (14)
And uses popular phrases. It’s Corwin’s expressions that jar the narrative in more than one occasion. Even with his cocky voice and popular speech, these phrases come off as too modern for the setting, be it Shadow Earth or Amber. The first five chapters have these expressions peppered throughout: “still sacking Z’s” (5), “One helluva one” (6), “thrown a monkey wrench into her plans” (35), “let’s get rolling” (52), “Get the picture?” (62). Each one is far enough apart not to be Corwin’s ‘usual’ voice and therefore we trip over them while reading. They don’t feel as part of the story, but rather like forced inclusions in the narrative.
His popular speech gets worse when Corwin addresses the reader directly. Like when he’s recruiting for his army, and he says,
I walked among Shadows, and found a race of furry creatures, dark and clawed and fanged, reasonably man-like, and about as intelligent as a freshman in the high school of your choice—sorry, kids, but what I mean is they were loyal, devoted, honest, and too easily screwed bastards like me and my brother. I felt like the dee-jay of your choice. (106)
Then later on, when he explains his recovery, and he says, “Well, let’s take it like this: I had awakened in a hospital bed and learned that I had recovered all too soon. Dig?” (158). Though Corwin is modern enough to use these popular references and expressions, they don’t feel right when compared to the rest of the world and the voices of the other characters.
Aspect 2: Subdued Corwin
It is a science fiction story, but Amber is still a medieval-like fantasy world, which might be the reason Corwin changes the tune of his voice. While the first five chapters pack a lot of boasting, confident declarations, and popular expressions, from chapter six onwards Corwin’s voice is both more proper and less explosive. The narrative concentrates on telling us what happens to the troops, the obstacles they encounter, and all the soldiers that die. Corwin recounts the events in both a poetic voice…
We were tempest-tossed and storm-torn, as the poets say, or said. My guts felt loose and watery as the first billows hit us. We were hurled from side to side like dice in a giant’s hand. We were swept over the waters of the sea and the waters from the sky. The sky turned black, and there was sleet mixed in with the glassy bell ropes that pulled the thunder. (115)
And in a monotone retelling of events.
Like, ten thousand men dead in a plains battle with centaurs, five thousand lost in an earthquake of frightening proportions, fifteen hundred dead of a whirlwind plague that swept the camps, nineteen thousand dead or missing in action as they passed through the jungles of a place I didn’t recognize, when the napalm fell upon them from the strange buzzing things that passed overhead…(113)
His previous fiery deliveries are gone and the chapters feel more fantasy-like because popular expressions disappear. It is only by the end chapters that confident and boastful Corwin returns, but thankfully not the popular expressions.
Corwin’s voice acts as the driving force behind the story. He’s a character that begs to be followed if only to see what rash thing he’ll say or do next. But his expressions are jarring even with his modern speech and his voice inconsistent. One might attribute the sudden change in voice to character growth or change in setting—from Shadow Earth to Amber—but that isn’t the case as Corwin is still reckless and cocky in the end. Regardless of the changes in voice and trippy phrases, I quite enjoyed reading Corwin’s story as it is fast paced and full of random events.