Sunday, 31 January 2010

Lord Valentine's Castle

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.


DesLily said...

I read this book eons ago.. and to be honest, even with you describing the book, all that comes back to me is the title and author! lol.. so I am guessing it didn't impress me as much as it did you.. strange how I remember owning the book (the cover was different) so long ago but not what it was about. At least you finished another book this month I am still reading Benedict Society. Which is actually quite good so I don't know why I am not reading normally instead of crocheting or wathing tv!

Cath said...

Hey Pat! This is one of those books that I liked quite a lot, but certainly doesn't have the heart of one of Anne McCaffrey's Pern books for instance. It was interesting and clever rather than wonderful.

It took me 10 days to read this one and I'm not even crocheting! On the other hand, I read 2 books in Jan. 2009... 5 in Jan 2010 so that's something of an improvement.

DesLily said...

I"m really trying today to finish the Mysterious Benedict Society so I can say I read 4 books this month!! gads that's pitiful!...but the only time it bothers me is when I have to post how few I read.. otherwise I could care less as long as I still have more books to read !

Cath said...

Pat: I had to laugh - I e.mailed my daughter to ask whether they'd read The Mysterious Benedict Society... next thing I know my grandaughter is on the phone. Says she read it a while back but the library hasn't got the sequel. Devon library seems to do that a lot. They only have one of the Nicholas Flamel books for instance.

To tell you the truth, Pat, I stopped doing a monthly run-down of books read. I was getting worried if I hadn't read at least 6. When I stopped posting I mostly stopped worrying. LOL!

GeraniumCat said...

I think I remember that there were "proper" sequels as well as the short stories - I enjoyed them, but I think the first was the best.

DesLily said...

I only post monthly wraps because it gives me something besides bird pictures to post LOL.. how sad is that?! LOL

Cath said...

GeraniumCat: it seems like The Majipoor Chronicles follows the first book and I'm told this is a very good book of short stories. And then Comes Valentine Pontifex which, as you say, is a *proper* sequel. Followed by others which I'm not sure about. Will certainly read those two anyway.

Pat: Don't worry, I know exactly how hard it is to think of something to post about if you haven't finished a book. Some days my brain is just not up to the strain. LOL!

Kailana said...

I have never decided if I want to read this or not... I have it on my TBR pile, but haven't rushed to watch it.

Cath said...

Kailana: to be honest, I think it's worth reading, especially for the wonderful world building.

Anonymous said...

I just re-read Castle after 20 years and it is still a wonderful book. Chronicles is a collection of short stories that fill in some of the history, but it is not necessry to read. The "vehicle" is that Hissune (guide from the Labarynth (sp))is promoted to clerk by Vallentine and learns by aborbing memory tapes, which are the short stories. In between each story is a little blurb by Hissune, but there is virtually not progress in his development.

The true sequal is Pontifex, and it is as good as Castle, and develops the plot a lot. A must read if you enjoyed Castle.

I had to go on line to investigate the other books as they did not exist when I first read the series.

What I got is there is another trilogy that takes place way before Valantine (Coronall Prestmion I believe) and a book about Vallentine unrelated to the plot.

I can not comment on these as I have not read them, but I am more attached to Valentine and his story than I am to the world. The short stories in Chronicles did very little for me.