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Lord Valentine's Castle
Robert Silverberg
Valentine, a wanderer who knows nothing except his name, finds himself on the fringes of a great city, and joins a troupe of jugglers and acrobats; gradually, he remembers that he is the Coronal Valentine, executive ruler of the vast world of Majipoor, and all its peoples, human and otherwise...

Lord Valentine's Castle was the first of Robert Silverberg's novels about Majipoor, in which he has for two decades explored the question of responsibility and authority; much SF and fantasy plays with constructed dreams of feudalism, but Silverberg asks the important questions of how a ruler can be a good person, and how can the person who rules all be free themselves.

Lord Valentine's Castle is a blend of SF worldbuilding & poetic fantasy. Silverberg has created a world long settled by spacefaring powers, aliens & humans alike, whose technological prowess is losing its edge. Hightech devices like antigravity floaters & weather control devices are an accepted part of Majipoor life, but ordinary people tend to regard them as magical. The pattern of life is far more medieval for most: Bioengineered mounts plow fields & pull carriages while minstrels scratch out a living by following the time-honored custom of moving from town to town, hoping for friendly crowds.
Valentine's journey is a long one, a tour thru a series of magnificent environments. Fields of predatory plants give way to impossibly wide rivers, chalk-cliffed islands & unforgiving deserts. The prose is unrelentingly dreamlike—no accident given that on Majipoor, dreams rule the minds of great & humble alike. Caught in a nightmare that reaches beyond his sleeping hours to control his real-world choices, Valentine too is enshrouded in layers of mystery. Tho he recovers his memories & purpose, he never quite comes into focus. Instead he's washed toward a confrontation at Castle Mount like a leaf rides a current.

Despite its ethereal beauty, Majipoor is no utopia. Humans sit firmly atop its political food chain, while the Metamorphs are at its base, dispossessed of ancestral lands, serving as scapegoats for social ills. Using this situation, Silverberg casts light on a variety of pertinent social concerns. Lord Valentine's world is a peaceful place whose citizens enjoy a significant degree of freedom. Even so, racism, imperialism & class haven't been vanquished. This compassionate & clear-eyed portrait of a reasonably decent society that could, with inspired leadership, pursue a higher ideal of justice is what makes Lord Valentine's Castle a novel worth revisiting.
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