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Lyonesse Suldrun’s Garden by Jack Vance Book Review


is essentially a more dignified series (The ) than George R.R.  Martins Fantasy Blockbusters (5 books and counting) and although there shan’t be any HBO money coming to Mr. Vance anytime soon, those readers who actually do read Mr. Vance’s fantasy series will find it rather illuminating.  There is actual Fantasy in it.  

In Lyonesse one gets a feel for Suldrun as a young girl born into royalty not unlike Ned Starks daughter Princess Sansa of the Martin books.  Suldrun is described by Vance as being beautiful, but she is one of those who keeps to herself, having a rich inner life.  Her Queen mother Sollace has somehow decided not to like her, simply because she was not born a

The boy, Suldrun’s brother Cassander is born about 5 years later.  

Suldruns father is King Casmir, he is a bit more elevated than the Kings of the Martin books, he seems a tad more Regal one would say, to the cruel, pork chop eating type of Royal in Martin’s books.  Here as well as in Martin’s Fantasy there is indeed a clash of Kings.  King Casmir has the ambition to rule as One King.  But the story is told much more gracefully than in Martin’s books.  

There is a number of chapters where an enemy of Casmir, King Granice of the Kingdom of Troice sends a councillor and two of his nephews, Aillas attractive and friendly and Trewan, the aire apparent proud and arrogant, on a Diplomatic Mission to meet with the various kingdoms and lay out, to the other Kings the danger of what King Casmir of Lyonesse is attempting to accomplish.  The atmosphere is more ‘stately’ from Vance.  In the Martin books there would be rapes, beheadings and torture with every other word spoken or page turned.  He, Martin has a more ‘modern sensibility’ than the elder born Vance.

Casmir leaned back in his chair.

“King Granice recently sent out a diplomatic mission, on one of his new warships. They put into Blaloc, Pomperol, Dahaut, Cluggach in Godelia and Ys. The emissaries decried my ambitions and proposed an alliance to defeat me.

They won only lukewarm support, if any, even though—” Casmir smiled a cold smile “—I have made no attempt to disguise my intentions.

Each hopes the others will fight the battle; each wishes to be the single kingdom unmolested. Granice, I am sure, expected no more; he wanted to assert both his leadership and his command of the sea. In this he succeeded very well.

I mention the Martin books because there are very few competitors here in this Fantasy Sword and Sorcery area.  Vance pre-dates Martin by quite a few years.  I’m a bit partial to these books.  I read them when I was much, much younger and although I’ve had happy and good memories of them, I had forgotten them.  But now as I began to read and Mr. Martin’s tomes I wanted to start these again and see if they were really as good as I remember them.  Have they aged poorly?  And with the new powerful light of Mr. Martin’s success, well deserved of course, this noted trilogy does warrant another looksie… 

As Suldrun ages her very cold and uncaring mother and all too regal and distant father treat her with the same disregard.  At the end of it is a marriage proposal from a very important but strange Duke, Duke Carfilhiot who goes away empty-handed, that is Suldrun’s undoing.

“You have marred the dignity of Duke Carfilhiot in a manner which can know no mitigation.” Suldrun’s mouth moved, but no words came.

King Casmir spoke on, “For frivolous whim you have come here rather than in dutiful obedience to the place required by my command. Therefore, remain in this place, both night and day, until the great hurt you have done me is assuaged, or until you are dead. If you depart either boldly or by stealth, you shall be slave to whomever first lays claim to you, be he knight or peasant, loon or vagabond; no matter!

You shall be his thing.”

Thank goodness there are laws about these things these days!  I mean back then people could actually do just about anything to you and if you didn’t have a battle-axe, you were essentially screwed.

Meanwhile Prince Aillas is thrown bodily from the ship, presumably by his cousin Prince Trewan during their Diplomatic Mission.  Aillas then washes up on shore, guess where?  If you guessed in Suldrun’s garden you’d be correct.  Much planning goes on as the two fall in love, have relations and a baby is born to Suldrun.

Suldrun looked up at him. “Do you truly love me?”

Aillas took her hands and pulled her to her feet; their faces were only inches apart. They kissed each other. “I love you most dearly,” said Aillas. “I never want to be parted from you.”

“I love you, Aillas, nor do I wish us to be parted ever.” In a transport of joy the two looked into each other’s eyes.

Aillas said: “Treachery and tribulation brought me here, but I give thanks for all of it.”

“I have been sad too,” said Suldrun. “Still, if I had not been sent away from the palace, I could not have salvaged your poor drowned corpse!”

“So then! For murderous Trewan and cruel Casmir: our thanks!” He bent his face to Suldrun’s; they kissed again and again; then, sinking to the couch, lay locked in each other’s arms, and presently lost themselves in ardour.

Things go from bad to worse from there on in for Princess Suldrun who makes a rather shocking exit.  Aillas escapes his imprisonment by the very cruel King Casmir and then goes on a hunt for his and Suldrun’s son, Dhrun, who amazingly was brought up by Fairies!  The book wanders from there into the fantasy world, exploring the stories of Magicians, Ogres and Witches of the Kingdoms.  

Stung by the derision of Widdefut, Sartzanek retaliated with the Spell of Total Enlightenment, so that Widdefut suddenly knew everything which might be known: the history of each atom of the universe, the devolvements of eight kinds of time, the possible phases of each succeeding instant; all the flavors, sounds, sights, smells of the world, as well as percepts relative to nine other more unusual senses.

Widdefut became palsied and paralyzed and could not so much as feed himself. He stood trembling in confusion until he desiccated to a wisp and blew away on the wind.

I was thinking along these last pages of how refreshing it would be for a young girl say 13 and up or so to read Lyonesse and the other 2 books, all of them are from a mostly feminine heroin’s perspective.  These are sure to be easily and highly recommended for young girls to read.  I can easily imagine a mother or father reading a bit to their children at the beside.  And again in the comparison between Martin’s books and these from Vance, one would be a bit unsure about Martin in the hands of a young girl… his is a much more violent and unfriendly world than Vance’s.  

Best to wait until the girl is over 18 for Martin! 

I’m pleased to report that the first book of the trilogy Lyonesse is still as good a read as it must have been to my younger self.  I enjoyed the book most happily and am now looking forward to reading the next two.

Rich Fantasy Well Told is rare indeed.  Mr. Vance has succeeded wonderfully well!

Highly Recommended.


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