Lord Valentine’s Castle: A vast imaginative world

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsRobert Silverberg The Majipoor Cycle 1. Lord Valentine's CastleLord Valentine’s Castle by Robert Silverberg

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.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe 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.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. I’ve got this book on my shelf. I picked it up it up at a used book store after reading the great Majipoor short that Silverberg did for Swords and Dark Magic. But it may have to sit there a while longer. I’m still intrigued but I can have a real time with a slow pace.
    Nice review, Kat.

  2. I absolutely loved this book when I first read it decades ago (boy, I hate phrase) and read I think three or four that followed. I’ve always wanted to give it another go to see how it held up (you know, after I get through the library of TBRs). You piqued my interest in doing so even more

  3. I’m reading the second book now. The world-building is terrific and I like Silverberg’s style. Lord Valentine’s Castle has a “leisurely” pace which some may prefer. I tend to be an impatient reader, partly because my TBR stack is always so high, but I always try to keep in mind that other readers may appreciate lingering in a well-done world. I think my main issue with this book was that the plot was so linear — it was a little too straight-forward for my taste. But I did enjoy it and am glad to have finally visited Majipoor.

    I’m also currently reading a book of Silverberg’s SF novellas (“Times Three”). Very good so far.

  4. @William- I feel ya, Brother. I catch myself all the time, realizing that it’s been over 20,.. 30 years, since I read this book or that series.. Surely someone has secretly converted people-years to dog-years on us. :( Thus the term “Life’s a b****”

    Silverberg has edited a number of anthologies that I have liked.
    I wonder if it’s something about the time this book was written. It seems to me that a lot of fantasy books from 80’s/early 90’s had that “leisurely” pace. (I writing the review for Friedman’s Black Sun Raising now and it’s that way too.)Like it’s an attempt at the achieving a whimsical feel.

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