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Lyonesse by Jack Vance
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Lyonesse (1983)

by Jack Vance

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Lyonesse (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,135207,212 (3.92)40
  1. 10
    Nine Princes In Amber by Roger Zelazny (corporate_clone)
    corporate_clone: another modern telling of fairy tales, Amber and Lyonnesse have quite a bit in common and may appeal the same readers.
  2. 10
    The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe (LamontCranston)
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» See also 40 mentions

English (17)  French (2)  Italian (1)  All (20)
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
Una bellissima e lunghissima fiaba fantasy. Vance rimarrà sempre un grande. ( )
  Angela.Me | Jun 10, 2017 |
Aside from the Dying Earth books, I’ve not read much Jack Vance. Which is odd, as I do adore those, the complexity and richness of the language, the sly wit and dark humour, the anti-heroes so well rendered. Lyonesse is a quite different beast. In some ways it feels far more of a traditional fantasy than the much earlier tales of Cugel the clever and Turjan and Chun the Unavoidable. It is definitely more of a true novel; most of the Dying Earth books are portmanteau made up of episodic short stories, while this is a distinct single tale.


The novel is set in several of the divided kingdoms of the Elder Isles, placed south of Ireland and north of Iberia, roughly where the Bay of Biscay becomes the Atlantic Ocean proper, as shown with a truly terrible map. We gather from the setting and occasional footnotes that this is where so many of the myths of Europe originate; this is Atlantis and Hy-Brasil and the Fairy Isles.


It did take me a little while to find my feet, for a couple of reasons. It wasn’t initially clear to me where this Atlantean land in which the tale unfolds was situated in time; the language and mores felt largely like those of the late middle ages (or, at any rate, with that Arthurian feel of the late middle ages from which much high fantasy takes its tone) but the references did not truly help to place it anywhere - or, rather, anywhen. It is stated that the founding family of one kingdom are also of the line that gave rise to Arthur Pendragon, although this seems to have been some time before. There is a Christian missionary, and reference is stated to the power of the church of Rome. It is, I think, deliberately vague and anachronistic, and it cased to be an issue once I was in caught up in the story.


Also early on, I had a problem with some changes of tone. At the outset the authorial voice is recognisably high fantasy, and becomes somewhat mythic or fairytale at points, but then we have a sudden shift into a rather dry chapter of historical and political exposition, before returning to the fairytale fantasy tone. Not long after this, however, I saw how the separate sections began to come together and that they were threads weaving into a greater tapestry. Vance does this quite superbly, introducing what appear to be obvious directions for the plot (obvious because of the fairytale fantasy inflection of the writing) only to immediately subvert them - and then call back much later on with an unforeseen payoff.


The characters are somewhere between mythic archetypes and actual people, something brought out by the habit of several of the magicians of the books splitting off from themselves scions, or sub-personalities, which begin as an aspect of the original but quickly develop their own characteristics.


For perhaps the first quarter of the book I was enjoying Lyonesse and thought it fine but, by the halfway point, I began to see why this is considered one of the great works of fantasy.
( )
  Pezski | Jun 8, 2017 |
I think this fantasy trilogy may well be my favourite. It's one I still reread with pleasure, probably because it is so clearly written for adults, though when I first read it as a teenager the violent indignities inflicted on Christian missionaries and the fate of poor Suldrun scared me off after the cosy safety of Middle Earth and Narnia. Luckily I went back to it. The dangers and cruelties of the Elder Isles anticipate the modern hard-boiled fantasy epics of Martin, Abercombie et al, yet the language is that of high chivalry, arch wit and sharp irony. Even the most horrible monster is highly articulate and argues with logic and reason. For every danger and cruelty, however, there is wonder and kindness and joy. The books, also, are unashamedly drenched with magic and crowded with fey personages, possibly the best fictional representation of fairies I have ever read, wonderful creatures utterly without conscience.

The story is long and strange and always unexpected. Our protagonists suffer sudden changes or reversals of fortune at every turn, and it's only about halfway through before a narrative begins to take proper shape. Vance's evocation of a fantasy landscape is unparalleled. For the first time, I noticed that there was something missing from the detailed descriptions of meals and feasts and scavenged scraps and quick repasts: no potatoes. Because, of course, they haven't been brought back from the Americas yet. I don't know why, but that little detail made me unaccountably happy. ( )
  Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

As I'm writing this, Jack Vance's under-appreciated Lyonesse trilogy has been off the shelves for years. My library doesn't even have a copy — it had to be interlibrary loaned for me. Why is that? Publishers have been printing a seemingly endless stream of vampire and werewolf novels these days — same plot, same characters, blah blah blah. If not that, it's grit. We all want grit. Or maybe it's that more women are reading fantasy these days and publishers think we want to read about bad-ass heroines who kill vampires. But, the publishers and authors are just giving us what we demand, I suppose. We all got sick of the sweeping medieval-style multi-volume epics that take forever to write, publish, and read. So now we get vampires and sassy chicks with tattoos and bare midriffs. When we've become glutted with those (it can't be long now), what's next?

I've got a suggestion: Publishers, why don't you reprint some of the best classic fantasy? Let's start with Jack Vance's Lyonesse. Here we have a beautiful and complex story full of fascinating characters (even those we only see for a couple of pages are engaging), unpredictable and shocking plot twists, and rambling and entertainingly disjointed adventure. No clichés. No vampires.

As a psychologist, I especially appreciated the many insights into human cognition and perceptual processing that I found in Suldrun's Garden. But what's best is Jack Vance's unique style. He's quirky, funny, and droll. He uses language not just to tell us an interesting story, but he actually entertains us with the way he uses language to tell the story. Similar to Ursula Le Guin, Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke, or Catherynne Valente, but in a different, completely unique style. I love authors who respect the English language and compose their prose with care and precision. Many of Jack Vance's sentences are purposely funny in their construction and I find myself laughing and delighted not at what was said, but at how it was said. Here's his description of Shimrod's excursion to another world:

He apprehended a landscape of vast extent dotted with isolated mountains of gray-yellow custard, each terminating in a ludicrous semi-human face. All faces turned toward himself, displaying outrage and censure. Some showed cataclysmic scowls and grimaces, others produced thunderous belches of disdain. The most intemperate extruded a pair of liver-colored tongues, dripping magma which tinkled in falling, like small bells; one or two spat jets of hissing green sound, which Shimrod avoided, so that they struck other mountains, to cause new disturbance.

And here is part of King Casmir's lecture to his daughter Suldrun when she announced that she's not ready to get married:

That is sentiment properly to be expected in a maiden chaste and innocent. I am not displeased. Still, such qualms must bend before affairs of state ... Your conduct toward Duke Carfilhiot must be amiable and gracious, yet neither fulsome not exaggerated. Do not press your company upon him; a man like Carfilhiot is stimulated by reserve and reluctance. Still, be neither coy not cold ... Modesty is all very well in moderation, even appealing. Still, when exercised to excess it becomes tiresome.

If you can find a used copy of Suldrun's Garden, the first of the Lyonesse trilogy, snatch it up. There are some available on Amazon and there's a kindle version, too. (Beware the Fantasy Masterworks version, which is known to have printing errors). Jack Vance is original; You won't get his books confused with anyone else's. This is beautiful work for those who love excellent fantasy literature!

Read this review in context at Fantasy Literature. ( )
1 vote Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
Props for its elegant prose, a certain wryness of expression, intelligent deployment of all the standard tropes of high fantasy, and many story threads cleverly tied together. However, I have to take points off for thin characterisation and excessive (if non-graphic) sexual violence. ( )
  salimbol | Dec 31, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jack Vanceprimary authorall editionscalculated
Canty, TomCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Christensen, James C.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Toulouse, SophieCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
van Houten, MickCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Norma: wife and colleague
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On a dreary winter's day, with rain sweeping across Lyonesse Town, Queen Sollace went into labor.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0575073748, Paperback)

The Elder Isles, located in what is now the Bay of Biscay off the the coast of Old Gaul, are made up of ten contending kingdoms, all vying with each other for control. At the centre of much of the intrigue is Casmir, the ruthless and ambitious king of Lyonnesse. His beautiful but otherworldly daughter, Suldrun, is part of his plans. He intends to cement an alliance or two by marrying her well. But Suldrun is as determined as he and defies him. Casmir coldly confines her to the overgrown garden that she loves to frequent, and it is here that meets her love and her tragedy unfolds. Political intrigue, magic, war, adventure and romance are interwoven in a rich and sweeping tale set in a brilliantly realized fabled land.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:34 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

The Elder Isles, located off the the coast of Old Gaul, are made up of ten contending kingdoms, all vying with each other for control. At the centre of much of the intrigue in this tale is Casmir, the ruthless and ambitious King of Lyonnesse.

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