Rhialto the Marvellous: “Flagrant and wild!”

Jack Vance Tales of the Dying Earth 4. Rhialto the Marvellousfantasy  book reviews Jack Vance The Dying Earth 4. Rhialto the MarvellousRhialto the Marvellous by Jack Vance

“Flagrant and wild!”

If you’re a fan of Jack Vance, of course you’ve read, or plan to read, Rhialto the Marvellous, last of the Dying Earth books. If you’ve not read any of Mr. Vance’s work, you can start here — it isn’t necessary to have read the previous installments.

Rhialto, who has earned the cognomen “Marvellous” (this has something to do with him being a bit of a dandy) is one of the last of Earth’s magicians, a small group of selfish and unscrupulous men who sometimes work together and sometimes oppose each other as it suits their individual inglorious purposes. The other magicians don’t care too much for Rhialto because he is aloof, popular with women, arrogant, and generally unflappable. Rhialto the Marvellous contains three stories which feature Rhialto working with and against his colleagues.

Rhialto is more passive than Cugel the Clever and not as dastardly, so he doesn’t drive the plot or leave a swath of destruction in his wake like Cugel does. Plus, he has to share the stage with several other strong personalities, making him not as vibrant as we’ve come to expect from Vance’s main characters.

Nonetheless, this novel is still chock full of the ludicrous circumstances and strange humor that Jack Vance fans love. The first story, “The Murthe,” introduces my favorite made-up Vance word: “ensqualm” — which means to turn a man into a woman. That story was hilarious as it seemed to poke fun of feminine behavior while actually ridiculing men. Arthur Morey, who narrates Brilliance Audio’s production and has become one of my favorite audiobook readers, is at top form here as he narrates Vermoulian’s dream (AXR-11 GG7, Volume Seven of the Index) in which Vermoulian meets a group of ensqualmed men and describes their behavior:

I found myself in a landscape of great charm, where I encountered a group of men, all cultured, artistic, and exquisitely refined of manner… ‘We dine upon nutritious nuts and seeds and ripe juicy fruit; we drink only the purest and most natural water from the springs. At night we sit around the campfire and sing merry little ballads. On special occasions we make a punch called opo, from pure fruits, natural honey, and sweet sessamy, and everyone is allowed a good sip… Ah, the women, whom we revere for their kindness, strength, wisdom and patience, as well as for the delicacy of their judgments!…’

He had me laughing out loud already, but when he read their answer to Vermoulian’s questions about how they procreate, I nearly spit my Starbucks onto the steering wheel. I went back and read this in my print copy — it was funny, yes, but Arthur Morey made it even better.

Rhialto the Marvellous is the last of Brilliance Audio’s Vance collection so far, and that makes me sad. I sincerely hope they’ll soon be adding more Vance titles to their catalog and that Arthur Morey will be reading them. If so, I promise that I’ll be reviewing them!


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KAT HOOPER is a professor at the University of North Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing speculative fiction is much more fun. Kat lives with her husband and their children in Jacksonville Florida.

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