Book Review 2007 #34: Suldrun’s Garden

My next book is a Vance that, due to being out of print for a while, that has escaped my reading, but no longer. The first in the Lyonesse trilogy by Jack Vance, Suldrun’s Garden.


Suldrun’s Garden is a set of interwoven stories and characters in Dark Ages/Medieval Europe, on a now vanished island archipelago called Lyonesse, off of the coast of France. Here, several kingdoms squabble and vie for mastery over the area.
Suldrun’s story, which starts the novel, is just one of interlocking tales, ranging from the doings of magicians, the scheming of potentates, and encounters with faerie and otherworlds. We meet wonderfully drawn characters. Suldrun herself, neglected and later imprisoned daughter of King Casmir. Aillas, the prince of an enemy kingdom, Troicinet, who by treachery is robbed of his rightful place and comes to meet Suldrun and thus precipitate events. Shimrod, magician who unhatches clever plots to find the villains who have robbed him and to gain revenge against the witch Desmei, who herself undergoes a strange transformation. And much more! We range the length and breath of these realms, from a sailing trip, to an episode in a faerie otherworld and much more.
Welded and melded to this is Vance’s consummate skill in writing. His ear for unusual words, wonderfully colorful descriptions and vocabulary are in full flower here.

Melcanthe, hesitating, looked askance at Shimrod. His manner were altogether too easy. She had expected beseechments, protests, stipulations, and attempts to force her into commitments which so far she felt she had evaded. “Come then”
She took him away from the meadow and along a faint trail into the forest. The trail led this way and that, through dappled shade, past logs supporting brackets and shelves of archaic furniture, besides clusters of celandines, anemones, monks-hood and harebells. Sounds faded behind them and they were alone.
They came to a small glade shadowed under tall birch, alders, and oaks. An outcrop of black gabbro edged up from among dozens of white amaryllis, to become a low crag with a single steep face. Into this face of black rock an iron-bound door had been fitted.

Now I admit that Vance’s style is not for everyone. I admit that I can only produce the palest and basest of mimicry of Vancean’s ear for words, be it in game posts, journal entries, blog entries, discarded scribbles on paper, or even common speech. Things often happen rapidly, events rushing past like an unbounded river, characters moving and doing things with rapidity and boldness, plunging the reader headlong through the book.
I really liked it.