The Majipoor Chronicles is a series of books that has been on my radar for a number of years, which is not surprising as Robert Silverberg began writing them in the early eighties. I'm only surprised that I didn't get to them before now to be honest and I actually nabbed this first one, Lord Valentine's Castle, from my daughter who got a bunch of sci fi books free from Devon Freecycle. As with all things - it was time.
Sitting on a ridge overlooking the city of Pidruid, 'Valentine' is adopted by Shanamir, a young herdsman on his way to sell his beasts in the city. 'Lord' Valentine, the coronal (a sort of king) of the planet of Majipoor, is doing a grand tour and has reached this city, so it's party and parade time. It surprises Shanamir that 'his' Valentine seems to know nothing about it and is also very hazy about his own past. He points out the similarity in names but this makes no impression on Valentine whatsoever.
Staying at an inn, Valentine is taken up by a troupe of jugglers and taught to juggle, as he seems to have a natural flair for it. He's offered a job touring with them and Shanamir decides to tag along. Valentine becomes friends with Carabella and Sleet, two of the troupe, but they also are taken aback by his lack of personal history and memories. Soon Valentine starts to get sendings - dreams sent from important people on the planet - and it becomes quite clear that Valentine is not just plain 'Valentine' after all... he's something else entirely.
Valentine realises he must go to see The Lady of Dreams but it's one long journey across the continent and he has to persuade the alien with four arms who runs the troupe to go the way he wants him to go. On the way there are many hazards and adventures and if Valentine is going to retrieve what is rightfully his he will need all the help and support he can get.
I couldn't make up my mind whether this book was science fiction or fantasy. It's actually a mix of both. It's made clear that Majipoor is a planet that has been settled by humans but that they share the planet with other intelligent species. On the other hand the characters are typical fantasy ones and the entourage Valentine collects around him is very like many classic fantasy stories such as The Belgariad series by David Eddings or the Dragonlance books by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. It matters not to be honest and this is just me trying to pigeon-hole a book, in my head it felt like science fiction and 'classic' sci fi to boot.
I have to say that I enjoyed Lord Valentine's Castle quite a lot. I always love a good 'travelling' fantasy or sci fi book and I think that's probably because I enjoy travel books and those always feel like reading a travelogue from another planet. The book is quite densely written. There is much description of the flora and fauna and of the huge cities and a great deal of imagination is displayed in that department. Silverberg obviously has a very clear picture of the planet in his head and quite frankly, it's amazing!
Character-wise it was possibly a tiny bit lacking. I liked the characters but I didn't love them, didn't feel close to them as is sometimes possible with a really fantastic book. On the other hand I certainly think I liked them 'enough'... which is fine.
Truthfully, I think the real joy in the book for me was Silverberg's world-building. Majipoor really is an amazing place and the alien races he very skillfully introduces remind me a bit of Ursula le Guin and her brilliant depictions of other races in books like The Birthday of the World. I won't say this book is as good as her writing but it's not that far off. And it fitted the bill nicely for what I felt like reading which was a sci fi of the classic kind which took me away to an amazing world.
So, this was the first book of the Majipoor series and off I went to see what comes next. Which was where the confusion set in. I was expecting a continuation of Valentine's adventures because of the unresolved issues - instead I found that a book of short stories based in the Majipoor universe comes next. I'll have to investigate further and see what my daughter has too as I would really like to continue with these books. The problem is, I don't think it's a series or trilogy in the concise sense that we've become used to over the past ten years. I think they might be more akin to Anne McCaffrey's Pern books or the Darkover series by Marion Zimmer Bradley. We'll see.