Saturday, August 6, 2016

Thalen Reads Lord Valentine's Castle #Blaugust2016

You are very peculiar. You speak no lies, yet nothing you say sounds right.I think you yourself have little knowledge of your own soul. - Carabella
This week, it's a return to older science fiction with the first book of Robert Silverberg's Majipoor series, Lord Valentine's Castle.

 I've read quite a few short story collections edited by Robert Silverberg over the years, but this is the first book actually written by him that I've read. Obviously I knew going on that he's a Grand Master of Science Fiction, so I expected great things. Happily I wasn't disappointed.

Lord Valentine's Castle is set on the world of Majipoor and is one of those novels that could easily be classified as science fiction or as fantasy depending on what your definitions are and how hard-nosed you want to be about it. It certainly feels like fantasy in a lot of ways; magic exists and wizards are common enough to be hired by caravans, dreams are sources of knowledge or dread punishments, and there are many non-human races. But on the other hand, space travel exists and spaceships come to Majipoor (though very rarely), vehicles float via technological means and are pulled by genetically modified herd beasts, and both the human and non-human races are immigrants from other planets, apart from a native race that is not very well treated.

We learn about this setting through the eyes of Valentine, a man who finds himself on a hill outside a city with no real memory of his past (take a drink). The new Coronal of Majipoor (one of the rulers of the planet) is visiting this very city, and just happens also be named Valentine. It's not hard to see that the Valentine we're following is somehow the real Lord Valentine and has been replaced by an impostor. Happily, Silverberg didn't try to stage this as some big reveal; both the replacement and who is behind it are verified about a quarter of the way into the book.

The main conflict of the book then centers around Valentine's quest to regain his title, although he does question whether really wants to do so. Even once he knows what has been done to him he doesn't really remember the person he was. He's fallen in with a troupe of traveling jugglers and has discovered he has a talent for the art. Does he really want to give up this new life for a title he doesn't truly miss?

The majority of the book is taken up by travels across Majipoor, first as a juggler with his new troupe and then as the deposed Coronal attempting to first prove his story and then amass a force with which to assault the castle of the Coronal and reclaim his title. Silverberg uses this to give us a sort of travelogue. Valentine and his companions pass through a reservation where some of Majipoor's distrusted and downtrodden natives live, take ship with a crew of sea-dragon hunters, fall afoul of some of Majipoor's carnivorous plant life, and so forth.

I enjoyed Lord Valentine's Castle quite a bit, certainly enough to seek out and read more of the books in the series. Apparently there are a number of them and quite a few short stories and novelettes, most of which take place prior to this book. I'm not sure if any of them go more into how Majipoor was colonized and how it's system of government came to be, but I'd certainly be interested to learn more about that.

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