Roger Zelazny James Blish - Essay

James Blish

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Nine Princes in Amber] is Zelazny's version of sword-and-sorcery, but it is not for addicts only. Zelazny has not borrowed the standard apparatus for this sort of thing, but has invented his own, and the result is an adventure story with real originality and zest.

True, the hero is suffering from amnesia after a blow on the head as the book opens, but this soap-opera ploy is milked so successfully for suspense that it is readily forgivable. As we find out, with the hero, more and more about his real situation, it becomes more and more evident that the smallest misstep will be fatal. Moreover, the author manages to create real doubt that he will win through, despite the almost insuperable handicap that he is telling his own story in the first person and therefore obviously did win through….

In many respects, the story could have been set with no loss in an Italian court during the Borgia pontificate. The magic, however, is integral, not just pasted on. The language is the mixture of poetry and slang characteristic of recent Zelazny, but it is not jarring here, since it makes a perfect fit with the hero's double life.

And the ending reveals, among other things, how the author managed to create that illusion of doubt—and leaves the door wide open for a sequel. I'll be looking for it.

James Blish, "Books: 'Nine Princes in Amber'," in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (© 1971 by Mercury Press, Inc.; reprinted from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction), Vol. 40, No. 5, May, 1971, p. 39.