Sunday, November 11, 2007

Lord Valentine's Castle by Robert Silverberg

Lord Valentine's Castle by Robert Silverberg

Come to the magical planet of Majipoor. Follow Valentine as he joins a motley band of jugglers to seek the secret of his lost past across a wide and wondrous world. In the shattered city of the Shapeshifters, in the temple of the Lady of Sleep and the Isle of the King of Dreams. From the depths of a dying emperor's dark domain, to the destiny that awaits him high atop Lord Valentine's Castle.
I first read this book long, long ago. It could easily have been twenty years ago. Then, somewhere in the years of house moves and book culls, my copy vanished. Of course, it was not long afterwards that I found myself with a hankering to reread the book. I checked out second hand copies as well as new, but somehow never quite made the decision to buy - buying books can be a long, complicated and expensive process here in New Zealand, especially if you want one that is older or not particularly popular. In the end, I bought an ecopy from Fictionwise and it then sat on my PDA waiting for me to find the time to read it.

I was a little concerned that the book might not stand up to my twenty (or however many) year old memories, but it came up trumps. I greatly enjoyed my long wander through Majipoor with Valentine and the others.

The plot is basically simple - the ruler of the world has his throne stolen from him and has to get it back - but Silverberg adds enough twists and turns to make it fresh. Valentine not only loses his throne, but also his memory and even his own body (although, given it was plagued with a limp, he eventually decides he got the better of the deal) and is dumped on the side of the road to make a new life and future. He falls in with a band of jugglers and, finding he has a natural talent for it, becomes one of the troop. However, his new and pleasant simple life is not allowed to last.

Plagued by dreams - on a planet where dreams hold truth, secrets and communication - the riddle of his past and identity is eventually revealed. Unable to believe it at first, he still finds himself drawn to follow the clues tossed out to him until he finds this amaing tale is true. From there, he sets about to regain his throne.

I like Valentine. At first he is almost simple, untroubled by the weights of life and responsibility, but even as he learns who he is and takes more and more onto himself, that sunny attitude almost never fades completely. The story is told in a close third person POV with Valentine as the focal character, so the only head we ever get inside is his. This means we get to know him very well, while the other characters are never as well developed. All the same, the reader (or this reader anyway) can develop a great liking for them. Besides Valentine himself, Carabella is probably my favourite character and while I fell I know her, I'd still like to know her a little better.

But really, it is Majipoor itself that is the star of the story. As Valentine and his companions slowly make their way from one side of the world to the other, the reader is taken on a fantastic journey around an amazing planet. Majipoor was originally home to the Metamorphs, a race of shapechangers, but people from Old Earth arrived fourteen thousand years ago and eventually took possession of the planet. A large range of other alien races also live on Majipoor and all are well described and make fascinating, well-rounded characters. There are the remains of the high-tech that came with the original settlers, but Majipoor is now in many ways more a fantasy world rather than a science fiction one. I love this mixture of the two genres and it is part of the attraction of the series for me.

As well as the strange races that populate the planet, the geography and flora and fauna are also unique and fascinating, from a mountain so high it's top sits outside the atmosphere and is maintained by ancient weather machines to amazing plants and creatures, Majipoor is a place of wonders and well worth the visit.

Oh, and we mustn't forget the Metamorph plot to regain their lost planet.

I never read any of the futher books in the series originally, but I am quite interested in doing so this time. The second book, Majipoor Chronicles, is now sitting on my PDA, waiting for me to have the time to read it.

Lord Valentine's Castle
Majipoor, Book 1
Robert Silverberg

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