Author: Roger Zelazny
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Chronicles of Amber Book One
Buy on Amazon!
A man awaking from a coma with no memory of who he is or what he's done with his life discovers he is Corwin, a Prince of Amber. As a Prince of Amber he can manipulate shadows and conjure all sorts of sorcery, but his biggest problem is that his brother Eric wants him dead so that he alone can claim the empty throne from their world.
In the near immediate aftermath of the publication of Lord of the Rings, publishers everywhere were looking to find authors who could write something similar, which of course led to a lot of cheap Tolkien imitations. Zelazny was able to escape these demands and write a fantasy series that was essentially different from the vast majority of stuff out there, which is impressive considering the Amber books were first released in the 1970's.
When I pick up a fantasy book written prior to the 90's, I generally expect some more dated character development, a slower starting plot that moves in a pretty straight-forward direction, clearly defined good and bad guys, and the story to take place in a world with some creatures that have become staples of the genre. With the exception of most of the character development, Zelazny defied a lot of what I was expecting. This is especially true with the plot.
Nine Princes in Amber has one of the strongest beginnings to any series I've come across. Corwin has no idea who he is and all he realizes is that he is in great danger. Things escalate quickly from there as you the reader get to discover, or rediscover in Corwin's case, his past and the world he comes from and all the dangers facing him. The first couple of chapters move at a blistering pace, it's like Zelazny anticipated the Young Adult genre formula by about thirty years.
Eventually things do slow down and the book's second act starts to suffer, especially as it has to rely on character development and the fact that the plot has started to realign itself into a more traditional good vs evil fantasy plot. But again to my surprise, Zelazny is able to create sympathies for each of the characters as well as glaring faults. It's not a truly morally ambiguous story like A Song of Ice and Fire, but it does seem to want to try and experiment with developing characters in a more morally grey direction.
Once the third act roles around, Zelazny is once again working on defying plot expectations, and there he largely succeeds again. Well it's hard to get emotionally attached to any one character, the short duration of the book and the fast moving plot do make it a quick and fun story to read.