The Green Pearl: Florid imagination, deliberately peculiar

Jack Vance Lyonesse 1. Suldrun's Garden 2. The Green Pearl 3. Madouc fantasy book reviewsfantasy book reviews Jack Vance Lyonesse The Green PearlThe Green Pearl by Jack Vance

The Green Pearl is another engrossing adventure in Jack Vance’s whimsical world. This installment of Lyonesse mainly follows Aillas, now King of Troicinet, as he seeks revenge on the Ska, tests his infatuation with Tatzel, deals with a couple of traitors, and tries to thwart the ambitions of King Casmir of Lyonesse who, unbeknownst to Casmir, is Aillas’s son’s grandfather. We also spend quite a bit of time with Shimrod, Glyneth, Melancthe, and some new and excellent characters such as the duplicitous innkeeper Dildahl, the dogged but distractible Visbhume, and The Notable and Singular Zuck (Dealer in Objects Unique Under the Firmament).

There are two main reasons that I love Lyonesse. First, I admire Vance’s florid imagination. His world and its creatures are unique and, while not as bizarre as Lewis Carroll’s, there’s plenty of weirdness. Second, I love Jack Vance’s odd but irresistible style. There’s no message, no lesson, no pretensions — it’s just pure fast-paced entertainment. But best of all, Vance’s deliberately peculiar and droll prose makes me laugh:

A crippled ex-soldier named Manting for ten years had served the county as executioner. He did his work efficiently and expunged Long Liam’s life definitely enough, but in a style quite devoid of that extra element of surprise and poignancy, which distinguished the notable executioner from his staid colleague… [then Manting comes into possession of the Green Pearl which Long Liam had carried] … Thereafter, all who watched Manting declared that they had never seen the executioner’s work done with more grace and attention to detail, so at times Manting and the condemned man seemed participants in a tragic drama which set every heart to throbbing; and at last, when the latch had been sprung, or the blow struck, or the torch tossed into the faggots, there was seldom a dry eye among the spectators.

And the dialog is truly humorous — so many authors try, but Vance gets it right. Just two short examples:

  • The barber said politely: “Sire, I suggest that you hold your feet motionless while I am cutting your toenails.”
  • When the beautiful but empty-headed Melancthe tries to seduce Shimrod, he says: “My character is intensely strong, and my will is like iron; still, I see no reason to demonstrate their strength needlessly.”

Again I shake my head in bewilderment that this charming trilogy can not be easily acquired by the usual book-obtaining methods. What a shame!


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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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2 comments

  1. Thanks for your nice reviews. I love Jack Vance and agree his work should have much more presence in bookstores. Luckily all his work can now be bought on his website (www.jackvance.com). Did you read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card? It is top ten worthy though none of his other books are. Thanks again, and lots of fun reading!

    • Hi Edwin,
      Yes, all of his work is (or will be soon) available at JackVance.com. We’ve mentioned that recently in one of our WWW columns. Jack Vance’s family that has set up that site.

      I loved Ender’s Game and it’s sequel Speaker of the Dead, but the series fell apart after that. Same with his Alvin Maker series. First two books are good, then it degenerates. Too bad!

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