Thursday 11 March 2010

This is the first Vance novel I've re-read and it was pretty damn awesome the second time around. It is on one level a fairly typical Vance narrative where an amoral protagonist claws his way through a rigid, highly-organised society, only to bring the system crashing through and then become a space explorer.

But with Vance, the details are everything. There are the wonderful proper nouns - Vance's characters just have the best names ever - The Jacynth Martin, The Grayven Warlock and so on. His knack for naming places is just as euphonious - the chief settings of the story are the rigidly-structured city of Clarges and its licentious counterpart, Carnevalle. There's an elaborate social scheme, with eternal life as goal, plenty of lush description, pungent dialogue and suspense. One of the highlights is a description of a mime performance. Another Vance highlight are imaginary artforms - this time we are shown a form of water sculpture.

You can't really unconditionally applaud Vance's heroes but you have to admire the determination and ruthlessness with which they go about achieving their ends, and Grayven/Gavin is no exception. I'm not sure this goes in the highest rung of Vance's work - I reserve that for the Demon Princes books, the Marune books, Dying Earth and Lyonesse, but it gets pretty damn close.

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