Thursday 28 September 2023

Madouc: Lyonesse III - Jack Vance (1989)


Rating: Excellent

Madouc won the World Fantasy Award for best novel in 1990, and deservedly so, as it is, overall, a pleasing novel. The third in the Lyonesse trilogy, it has the job of resolving the multitude of narrative threads raised in the the first two - Suldren's Garden (1983) and The Green Pearl (1985). Madouc, unsurprisingly, explores what happened to Madouc, the mysterious fairy child mischievously switched for the human baby, Dhrun. Once again, the fate of the Elder Isles hangs in the balance, both in terms of the magical activities of evil wizard Tamurello, imprisoned at the end of the last novel, and King Casmir, forever plotting for control over the Elder Isles. The world building is particularly rich, and Vance's prose style is lucidly descriptive, without being too convoluted, which is also a hallmark of the trilogy and Vance's work in general. 

Jack Vance, future sailor

Despite the qualities of Madouc, there are some flaws, in particular there is too much narrative space given to Madouc while she grows up in Lyonesse Town under the watchful eye of King Casmir. The fact that she is a difficult child and disobeys her elders is shown again and again in multiple ways, some more entertaining than others, however it becomes a bit tedious after a while. Madouc does develop as a character, but far more interesting is her encounters with her fairy mother, Twisk and then the fairy realm within Tantravalles forest, where the fairy king gives another entertaining turn. Also the adventures that follow, where she seeks the holy grail, is far more entertaining than her merely being a truculent child. Shimrod, the wizard, is underused in this novel compared to the first two, however he is still an entertaining presence. Ultimately, Madouc, although excellent, suffers what most third parts of trilogies suffer from, overfamiliarity and therefore a sense that it is not quite as good and what came before. Nonetheless, Lyonesse is a quality fantasy trilogy and well worth reading for Vance's quality prose, engaging characters and vivid imagination. Jack Vance really was one of those brilliant writers who, despite churning out novels, kept to a high standard. He really should be more heralded for both his science fiction and fantasy.

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