This is a review of “Lord Valentine’s Castle: Book One of the Majipoor Cycle” by Robert Silverberg.
Valentine is a wanderer without memory who, through fortune and fate, finds himself a member of a motley group of entertainers, and always hoping to meet someone who can give him back what he has lost. Then he begins to dream and to receive messages in those dreams. These tell him that he is far more than a common vagabond and that a great wrong has been done that has shifted the balance of power. Now it is up to him to reclaim his memory and claim the destiny that awaits him…
Majipoor is a vast, vast world. Seriously vast. Extremely vast. Both in time and in space and in the myriad of species living on it. It is a rich and vibrant place, full of life of all kinds from indigenous alien species to humans to other alien species that have all settled on Majipoor in the days when space travel was more widely used. It is fascinating to read how science-fiction and fantasy have been blended together to give Majipoor life, but that is just about the only truly interesting thing about this.
Apart from constantly losing the sense of urgency because of the way the tale is written there are also quite a few parts of the story that seem rather useless and don’t serve any perceivable purpose in this book – most notable being the trip to the region of the Shapeshifters, and Khun the alien from another planet who didn’t bring anything new to the story and could have been exchanged with a Majipoor resident without anyone noticing.
The main enemy isn’t much of an enemy at all. He doesn’t really do much despite having gained the throne, giving out the occasional order or law none of which actually seem all that bad just bothersome to the locals, sending out a spy or two to keep an eye on Valentine, and once ruining a plantation. However, in the very last stages the enemy does do something truly evil and surprising considering the rest of the book but it all turns out not to be the enemy’s idea, but the idea of a secret enemy working behind the scenes. It is a good plot and a mild surprise, and these two short parts are my favourites in the entire book.
Valentine is a stereotypical character. The reader knows who he once was by the end of the first chapter, Valentine is a genius at everything he does with a tiny bit of practice, he attracts followers like flies to honey with no trouble convincing them that he is who he is, and the one flaw he had was in his old body. Of course, he suffers bouts of doubt, but those disappear as soon as someone else tells him otherwise and as the story progresses they more or less disappear completely. The one time he had a real crisis of his own making was over far too quickly and easily, but I think that I liked him more in that single moment than I did in the rest of the entire book. Not that there was much personality to like, really, so it was no great feat.
The rest of his companions aren’t much better, although some have louder voices than others but not by much. This is, in essence, a travelogue of a book and Valentine’s story is just secondary. The author takes great pains in reminding us that Majipoor is enormously vast and complex and alien with a slew of new cities and species and plants and places. It is interesting but after a while of constantly being fed new plants, animals and places to remember it does get a bit annoying. There are also some small things that contradicted something that the author had implicated just a chapter or two (or even a page or two) earlier, but those were minor.
Despite this is was an okay book and I don’t regret reading it. I do, however, doubt that I will read the sequels.