I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
“And then, after walking all day through a golden haze of humid warmth that gathered about him like fine wet fleece, Valentine came to a great ridge of outcropping white stone overlooking the city of Pidruid. It was the provincial capital, sprawling and splendid, the biggest city he had come upon since--since?--the biggest in a long while of wandering at any rate.”
That's the charming, mysterious start to Robert Silverberg's sf-that-often-feels-like-fantasy novel Lord Valentine's Castle (1980). Valentine is a laid-back man unconcerned that just about all he can remember is his name. A 13-year-old herder called Shanamir takes him under his wing (thinking he might be simple), escorting him into Pidruid, where the boy plans to sell his "synthetic" mounts at market during a big festival to honor the once every 20 years visit of the Coronal, who rules this world of Majipoor. That the Coronal's name is Lord Valentine doesn't impress Valentine, who says that it’s a common name and that he sure wouldn’t want the burden of ruling “over billions upon billions of people, across territories so huge we can’t comprehend them.”
If at this point we match the title of the novel with the name of its protagonist, we might suspect that we're in a Special Protagonist with Amnesia story, if not an Unjustly Deposed Ruler out to Regain His Rightful Place story. We might even recall something like Roger Zelazny's Nine Princes in Amber (1970). Valentine, however, isn't driven to discover his identity and soon joins a troupe of wandering jugglers led by a Skandar (four-armed bear-like giant) because he's intrigued by the art and by Carabella, a young lady juggler. But wait! He learns to juggle suspiciously quickly and capably, and after the troupe performs before the Coronal, he feels soiled and drained and begins dreaming provocative dreams involving violence, the Coronal, the Pontifex (the ruler of the bureaucracy of Majipoor), and himself. And then he has a Dream-Speaker interpret the dreams, and--
Much of the early pleasure of reading Silverberg's novel comes from wondering when and how Valentine will learn his identity and what has happened to him. Indeed, when all that comes out in the first "Book" of the five that comprise the novel and Valentine gets a goal, things become more predictable and less interesting. But there is still much to enjoy because Majipoor is a world "full of wonders," because Silverberg's writing is pleasurable, because he explores duty, destiny, identity, memory, history, performance, love, dreams, the divine, self-control, social interaction, and cross-cultural understanding.
Majipoor is a giant, airy world poor in metals and fossil fuels, but rich in flora and fauna and geographical features. Although it's currently a backwater planet neglected by star-faring civilizations and doing little inter-planetary exploration or trade, 14,000 years ago humans from Old Earth settled there. And in the past non-human species ranging from tentacled Vroon to two-headed Su-Suheris immigrated to Majipoor. The 20 billion citizens of various races and environments live in culturally diverse and historically rich cities, each with its own architectural styles and urban layouts, from tree houses to "frozen poetry." Apart from remnants of ancient advanced technology (e.g., floater cars, vibro blades, and dream sending devices) and "magic" that seems mostly telepathy, the people of Majipoor seem to live in a pseudo-Medieval fantasy civilization.
Millennia ago the human settlers won a war against the indigenous Metamorphs and confined them to a reservation-like prefecture on one continent, since when there have been no armies or wars on Majipoor. The harmony derives from the balanced system by which the Pontifex rules the bureaucracy, the Coronal enforces the laws, the King of Dreams sends admonitory and punitive nightmares, and the Lady of the Isle sends dreams of love and calm. Nevertheless, unfinished business between the Metamorphs and their conquerors still festers.
Silverberg depicts Majipoor with affection, imagination, and fine prose. It's a beautiful place ("Cascades of dark leaves, tapering, drip-tipped, glistened as if polished by the rain") and an exotic one: "the [psychosensitive] plants had folded their intricate compound leaflets in the course of the quarrel and looked shriveled and blackened for ten feet on all sides of him. He touched one. It was crisp and lifeless, as though it had been torched. He felt abashed at being a party to such destruction." And just when I'd become numb to yet more descriptions of new places and plants, Silverberg introduced a great conception, the Labyrinth, a vast, multi-leveled subterranean city of bureaucrats, "Multitudes of toiling clerks in the kingdom of eternal night."
There is much humor in the novel, whether situation-driven (as in a satiric sequence where Valentine plays two feuding bureaucrats off against each other) or character-driven (as with Lisamon Hultin, a Conan-esque giantess bodyguard, or Deliamber, a diminutive Vroon wizard).
Juggling is a key motif in the novel. It is not, Valentine learns, merely an entertainment, but a way of life, a friend, a creed, a species of worship, a poetry, a mathematics, and a balance. When juggling he reaches a quiet place, a meditative, selfless ecstasy. And he can apply the art of juggling to life situations.
With his rich baritone, Stefan Rudneki reads the audiobook well. He does neat non-human characters and boldly sings various songs. Perhaps he should distinguish Valentine's accent, which his friends say differs from theirs.
Lord Valentine's Castle recalls Jack Vance and Gene Wolfe (vast history, various cultures, ancient tech, episodic travelogue plot, etc.), though Silverberg writes more appealing characters than Vance and a lighter story than Wolfe. People who like vintage sf/fantasy set on huge, culturally and environmentally diverse worlds would probably like it.
History, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy
Grand in scope, intriguing potential with highly imaginative topography, alien races and overall story. I just felt the actual banter between Valentine and his various friends to be be shallow to dull which left not one character as someone you really cared about. The fantasy world is huge and extremely creative and I would recommend this to anyone who likes the old formula fantasy with a hint of sci-fi.
I read this book a number of years ago and was happy to find it on Audible. It didn't challenge my intellect or make me want to take up a political cause - it was just a fun futuristic/medieval romp. Sometimes those are the best books.
I liked the narrator - his voice was smooth and he didn't overdo the drama in his voice. It was delightful.
It wanted me to dust off my juggling balls.
Loved the book when it came out over 30 years ago. Some SF/Fantasy books dont hold up over this length of time but this one surely does. The story is riveting and the narrator fantastic.
yes, because the story is a little different.
It end about the way I expected.
I hear Stefan perform on other book and he is always give a good performance.
I HATE reading good scifi or fantasy writing saddled by a smothering theme.
It's like having sheet cake...The WHOLE sheet cake. It's cloying at the end of the day.
Despite the wonderful alien races, simple strong writing, interesting characters, and a great plot. THEN...That crazy wacky King of Dreams. SO much planet-spanning messages to everyone in the night, so many blurry analogies, hidden godly wills, and a mishmash of mysticism and religion.
It just pulled me away from the core of a great novel.
Please understand, religion in fantasy is commonplace. Look at Jordan's Wheel Of Time series as an example of religion woven smoothly into fantasy writing. It works. It strengthens the entire story, and is one of the essential underpinnings of the entire series.
Here, not so much.
I hate that I love this work, and am equally frustrated by it's poorly driven religion. I finished the work, and hoped that this would end in the first novel. Nope. It got worse.
I'm VERY confident that some of you will disagree, and that's okay. This is MY opinion, and I have to be true to myself.
Sorry, Robert, I really tried.
This was one of the worst written stories I've ever heard. The writing is lazy, disjointed, and many times sounds like a middle school student authored it. The audio was acceptable, although the reader's attempt at different voices was inconsistent. Any female character sounded whiney and about to cry.
I cannot believe this book won any awards. I only finished this train wreck for completion sake.