Ahoy there me mateys! A little while back, I was introduced to Robert Silverberg’s work with his novella the emperor and the maula. Like I said then, I had absurdly never heard of him. Now if ye be unaware of the author:
I learned from sandy @ fantasyliterature that Mr. Silverberg has written no fewer than “78 sci-fi novels, almost 450 short stories and novellas, around 70 books of nonfiction, and around 185 novels of, um, “adult fiction,” in addition to having edited over 130 anthologies.” Talk about prolific! He is currently 82 years old. Goodreads says that he has won 5 Hugos and 5 Nebulas. Also he is a 2004 Grand Master from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Sheesh!
At the time I reached out to the crew for recommendations of what else to read out of his many, many works. Me matey, calmgrove, said “I’ve really enjoyed his Majippoor novels, all set on a giant planet. The first, “Lord Valentine’s Castle”, is very accessible, but to be honest if you don’t want to read the rest if the loosely linked series you won’t feel too denied!”
I liked the idea that it was a series that 1) if I liked it I could read more; and 2) it was a self-contained story. Plus a local library had it for free on audiobook. Decision made!
It turned out to be an okay read. I didn’t love it but I am glad I read it. I actually loved the world-building, the characters, and the wonderful set-up. The titular character, Valentine, was extremely fun. When ye start the book, Valentine is entering an enormous city in time for a festival. What ye learn is that Valentine has no memories at all. They start at the moment the reader meets him – on the hill on day of his arrival in the big city. Where did he come from? Why is he there? He doesn’t know what to do with himself so he joins a juggling troupe! Fantastic.
There were two major problems for me and unfortunately both are pet peeves. The first was that it is a travelogue. I love that ye get to see new places and people but here each are touched on only briefly. I don’t tend to like books where the characters wander around and nothing really exciting happens. In this book, the focus is on Valentine’s struggle to remember his past and then his reluctance to believe it. That reluctance is me second problem. Valentine waffles and hems and haws about his identity even when it has already been proven to the reader and even other characters in the book.
I do not like wishy-washy characters or angst. I did understand why Valentine wouldn’t want to take up his old position. I understood why he might want a choice in his life’s path. Who wouldn’t? But I would have liked, after a brief inter-personal struggle, to have seen him embrace his past and then decide how to tackle his future. Instead, the situation is resolved in almost a laughable way with very little action or suspense. Also there are convenient people who happen to come along and offer help at just the right moment. Sigh.
Dreams are also a major part of this book. They have real-world consequences and send messages to the people. There are dream readers and dream rulers. Dreams are tied into the ruling of the government. According to Wikipedia “The planet is ruled by an unusual tetrarchy: an adoptive Coronal rules in a highly visible and symbolic manner from his palace atop Castle Mount; the previous Coronal retires to become the Pontifex, the head of the bureaucracy in an underground Labyrinth; the Coronal’s mother becomes the Lady of the Isle of Sleep, promoting the morals of Majipoor by sending dreams to its inhabitants; while a hereditary King of Dreams on the distant continent of Suvrael punishes wrongdoers by visiting them with nightmares.” Again cool concept but I was more than a bit confused how they impacted Valentine’s journey.
I did happen to love Lisamon Hultin, a giant warrior woman mercenary. She was so fun! And there was an excellent part dealing with the sea and sea serpents. I, of course, adored that section. And truly, I was rooting for Valentine the whole time. While the plot didn’t excite me, I was glad to have this introduction to Majipoor world. I am not adverse to readin’ the second book as it seems to be a collection of individual stories set in a larger framework. Arrr!
Check out this interesting article on the Tor.com website about the novel.
Goodreads has this to say about the novel:
Valentine, a wanderer who knows nothing except his name, finds himself on the fringes of a great city, and joins a troupe of jugglers and acrobats; gradually, he remembers that he is the Coronal Valentine, executive ruler of the vast world of Majipoor, and all its peoples, human and otherwise…
Valentine’s journey is a long one, a tour through a series of magnificent environments. Fields of predatory plants give way to impossibly wide rivers, chalk-cliffed islands and unforgiving deserts. The prose is unrelentingly dreamlike—no accident given that on Majipoor, dreams rule the minds of great and humble alike.
Originally serialized in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in four parts: November 1979, December 1979, January 1980 and February 1980.
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