Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of Lord Valentine’s Castle by Robert Silverberg

Review of Lord Valentine’s Castle by Robert Silverberg

This is the first of the Majipoor books and it’s a volume very much concerned with world-building. Majipoor is a large planet colonised thousands of years ago by humans, and its population of 20 billion includes a range of alien races and the native Shapeshifters. While Lord Valentine’s Castle is technically science fiction, Majipoor has very little metal and various forms of what is essentially magic, so it feels much more like fantasy.

The main character, Valentine, finds himself overlooking a great city with very little idea as to who he is. The story is a fairly straightforward quest – Valentine has to first find out who he really is and then regain his former position. All the way through the first three quarters or so of the book I was assuming that this quest wouldn’t be as simple it appeared – either there would be some hidden fact of Valentine’s identity, or he was being misled in some way. As it got towards the end of the book, however, I began to discard this idea. There was a twist in the tale at it culmination, but it wasn’t what, or as dramatic as I had been expecting.

For all the epic scope of the world of Majipoor and Valentine’s journey across it, there was little in the way of drama in the novel. Pretty much all of Valentine’s companions are or become straightforward allies; many of the crises he faces are easily dealt with or not nearly as ruinous as they promise; and in the end, Valentine’s quest pans out much as he envisions it.

But drama isn’t really the main attraction of this book. Instead, what stands out is the detail and thought that has gone into creating the massive stage that that drama plays out on. From sea dragons, to mile-high cliffs, to carnivorous plants, to immense sprawling cities, to the labyrinthine den of the Pontifex, to the myriad-roomed 30 mile-high palace of the Coronal, to … various other things. More than any other story I’ve read, this gives Lord Valentine’s Castle a very similar feel to H P Lovecraft’s ‘The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath’ – one of my very favourite fantasy stories.

Given that much of the plot of Lord Valentine’s Castle revolves around dreaming – the similarities between these two works is probably not a coincidence. However, while H P Lovecraft fits his quest story into 100-150 pages, Robert Silverberg’s takes 500 plus, and is correspondingly that much more tedious. The dream sequences don’t help much in that respect, either.

It’s definitely a readable story and has much to recommend it, but was a little too light on plot and character interaction for my taste. As I always say at this point, I wouldn’t mind reading the next volume, but I’m not desperate to seek it out.

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