10 Books of Amber

July 31, 2011
Erik Johnson

I’m still slicing into my story, but I’d like to also to use this blog to talk about books I read. A lot of writers say that you should read a lot in order to be a better writer. Seems logical to me, but I’m not sure a lot of wannabe writers get that. How can you know what is good and what isn’t if you don’t expose yourself to a lot of different writing styles?

I recently recommended Roger Zelazny‘s Amber series to a few people who were looking for new things to read, and in so doing, I got the bug to read it again myself. This will be my 4th time reading it, although the last time was quite a while ago. This is a fairly remarkable thing for me, as I mostly dislike reading most books more than once. The only other books I’ve read multiple times are the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and The Engines of God, by Jack McDevitt.

I picked up The Great Book of Amber a couple of weeks ago, even though I already own all the books in the series. I figured that I wouldn’t have to dig the books out of the attic it would be nice to have all 10 books in one large volume. In the first two days, I devoured the first book, Nine Princes in Amber, and I fell in love with it all over again. If you haven’t read it (shame on you), the story starts with the main character waking up with amnesia. Yes, not necessarily the most original of beginnings, but Zelazny does such a good job of keeping the mystery alive all throughout the first book, that it doesn’t really matter (and really, this was written in the 70s; it wasn’t so cliché then). When the main character starts getting a taste of the strangeness afoot, I dare you to put the book down.

I don’t want to talk about too much of the plot here, as I think it is best experienced with as little knowledge going into it as possible. I read the first book when I was seventeen in my high school Fantasy and Science Fiction Literature class, and I had little pre-knowledge of the book. By the end of the semester I had read all five books of the first series (the only series at the time). The joy of discovery along the way is another reason why I love the series so much – just when you think you know what’s going on or what will happen, the story takes a hard left turn. It’s quite a ride.

What’s more interesting to me this time through, however, is the writing more than the plot. Yes, the plot is excellent – full of intrigue, politics, and mystery. The prose itself is something rare these days. It’s quick, accessible, and friendly (the first book is a mere 175 pages long). Some of the style comes from the first person point-of-view, true, but Zelazny doesn’t take three pages to describe the armor of everyone in the room like some modern fantasy authors do. (And that’s not a dig on “epic” fantasy, just a statement of fact.) Zelazny writes witty, pithy prose that I really appreciate.

In fact, I appreciate it so much, that I do believe I emulate it. As I read, I saw how much of my own writing style was influenced by the man, and I am once again saddened that I never got to meet him. I wish it had occurred to me to email him, or write him and let him know how much I enjoyed it.

So if you like fantasy or tight prose and deep mysteries, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I envy you who have not yet read the series – you have quite a ride in store.

(I also wanted to use this as an excuse opportunity to try out my nifty little Open Library plugin. If you want to know more, simply click below. Sadly, the Amber series has not yet been published in electronic format, but it’s dirt cheap on Amazon, and well worth the price.)