In many ways, the Lyonesse Trilogy consists of three threads which connect sometimes very tangentially. There is the competition between the various kingdoms, the conflict between the mages, and the quests into 'fairyland'. Each of these stories is dispersed through the novels in varying doses.
In the final volume, it felt at times like Vance had left himself with too much to do. Every now and then, he hit the fast forward button and events whiz by almost in summary. At other times, tangential and inconsequential matters were lingered over. A great deal of writing was spent establishing characters only to rid them from the book in a sentence.
Maduoc eclipses to a greater or lesser extent the main characters from the previous novels. I felt Glyneth in particular got short shrift. Where, for instance, were these swords she brought back from Tanjecterly? The concentration on Maduoc compresses the ultimate conclusion of the struggle between Aillas and Casimir, making it feel a little rushed.
And yet, the novel makes up for these dashed expectations. Shimrod's adventures in the previous novels, at times made disjointed and abrupt by the opaque central mystery now click into place. More importantly, Maduoc is an engaging character and her adventures kept my interest throughout. I was particularly moved by the ultimate fate of one of the minor characters. It was very well done.
Though this book is called The Green Pearl, the pearl itself bookends the story, the vast bulk of which is devoted to Aillas's efforts to defeat the Ska and Casimir's political machinations. Aillas proves to be every bit as crafty as his enemies though his subjects appear remarkably calm when their king disappears without warning. Shimrod also pops up here and there to fathom the mysterious Melancthe.
The book is filled with adventure, colourful characters, and clever scenes. Dhrun fades into the background, taking a backseat to Aillas and Glyneth. The trip to the delightfully named Tanjecterly was particularly entertaining if nearly a separate story. The fact that it's a sequel works very much to its favour in that we're clear from the start which characters we're supposed to root for.
The only fly in the ointment was Father Umphred. His interminable campaign to build a cathedral really got on my nerves. I suppose he isn't meant to be a sympathetic character, but I could have done with less of him. All in all, it is a very satisfying read and a worthy successor to Suldrun's Garden.
This book is the first of trilogy set in that magical time of medieval anachronistic romance when knights charged about in the Dark Ages in a manner more befitting several centuries later. Vance has plonked several legendary realms (for example Ys, Avalon, and Lyonesse) on an archipelago in the Atlantic, the Elder Isles, which sinks without trace (or record) centuries later.
The book has a low key start in the palace of Casimir the King of Lyonesse. However, it quickly becomes clear that the garden is merely the starting point of the story and it quickly expands to include other warring kingdoms, mages, and magical creatures.
Vance's world is a brutal one. People die a lot and sometimes randomly. Bad things happen. There is one brutal twist which really shakes up the story. However, the omnipresent narration distances the reader from events to some degree so it never tips into the realm of grimdark. The mood is often more akin to that of a classical fairy tale.
The world building is detailed but in some ways random to create kind of a 'springy' effect.
There are a couple distinct threads in this story most of which branch out from Suldrun. The mages' subplot on the other hand starts out separate but eventually intersects with the others. However, perhaps thanks to an embargo on mages on intervening in political matters, it feels as their struggle and the kings' rivalry often just glance off each other. The book is full of digressions and tangents, but the imaginative scope of the book cannot be denied.
There are loose threads at the end but you would expect that given it was obviously envisaged as part of a trilogy. One thing I did have a problem with was the epilogue which I suppose was meant to wet the reader's appetite for the next volume but, to me, felt very much like somebody just hit the fast forward button, speeding events by without context.
I read this because I kept hearing Vance was so good and I thought maybe I missed one of the great Fantasy writers of a bygone era.
However, when I began reading, I saw it as very much a thing of its time. It was very dialogue heavy to the exclusion of description. I often wasn't sure who was who as it all had to be worked out from the conversation. here was a big information dump at the beginning of chapter two, but by then I didn't care. The book read like many of the newer amateur self-published books written by white males. all about war, enslaving dragons for the purpose and juggling for leadership or conquering.
It did make me think, but more about the evolution of fiction writing over time. These Fantasy books from the 1950s-1960s are very different from say, literature from the Victorians. But something that was considered great back then wouldn't pass muster today. We've become more sophisticated and maybe even arrogant, expecting certain conventions from our writers.
The information dumps for example. It was common in the books of that era. Now somebody has taught us that it's wrong, so to get the kind of detailed world building that Traditional Fantasy fans love, writers have to write huge books to work details in that might have been more easily communicated with a couple of pages of info dumping.
Vance gets this right. The info dump wouldn't feel like an info dump if I hadn't been conditioned to recognize it as such. He actually didn't do enough of it. It would have been nice to have more background information to the story to keep every thing in context.
Anyway, I've satisfied my curiosity about this writer and will move on to newer writers, leaving this in the historical SFF category.