Valentine has been wandering the planet of Majipoor for a couple of years, but has almost no memory of where he’s been or what his life was like before. When he discovers that he has a talent for juggling and joins a troop of entertainers, he becomes more connected to his world and aware that something is wrong with him. After experiencing some “sendings” in dreams and hearing about the dreams of others, he begins to realize that he is Lord Valentine, one of the four rulers of Majipoor, whose soul has been put into some other body. So, with a loyal group of friends, he sets out to get some answers and to try to make things right.
Lord Valentine’s Castle (1980) is considered a classic SFF novel and, therefore, it’s one I’ve been planning to read (and expecting to love) for years. Indeed, there is much to love about Robert Silverberg’s world of Majipoor — it’s a huge hinterlands planet full of jungles, volcanoes, archipelagoes, deserts, long rivers, and sprawling cities populated by alien races and Old Earth humans. Majipoor contains no fossil fuels and few metals and, while there are still some genetically engineered animals and plants, most of Earth’s technology has been lost (though some is still being used by the rulers). Thus, Majipoor reminds me of what I love about Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun — an old-world style with hints of unknown technological wonders that we hope to explore in future books.
As Valentine travels, he explores much of Majipoor and comes to understand and love many of its inhabitants as he experiences their cultures, economic systems, geographies, and ecologies. Of course, once he takes his rightful place as ruler of Majipoor, in the sprawling castle on a remote plateau in the clouds, all of this experience will serve him well.
The premise and the world-building are the strengths of Lord Valentine’s Castle. The plot, though it has so much potential, sometimes seems to crawl under the weight of that huge planet. Valentine plans to go to the castle to confront the imposter, so he goes. It’s a long slow journey which has some obstacles, but they’re all rather easily overcome. Much of the hard work is done in dreams or images as the Lady of Dreams (and, later, Valentine himself) convinces the people around him that Valentine is the true ruler of Majipoor. There’s not much tension and what there is, is quickly relieved. (However, the scene in which Valentine juggles for the shape shifters gave me chills).
There were also some things I didn’t think were adequately explained. For example, why doesn’t the imposter kill Valentine rather than put him into a different body? (There was an explanation for this which only made sense until the real imposter was revealed at the end of the story.) I also wanted to know how the body-switch happened. I hope these things will be explained in later Majipoor books.
I listened to Blackstone Audio’s production of Lord Valentine’s Castle which was read by one of my favorite narrators: Stefan Rudnicki. As usual, this was a very nice production and a great way to read Lord Valentine’s Castle.
If you want to explore a vast imaginative world, and don’t mind the leisurely pace, try Robert Silverberg’s Majipoor Cycle.