John Wiswell's Reviews > Suldrun's Garden

Suldrun's Garden by Jack Vance
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's review
Apr 30, 2009

it was ok
Read in September, 2009

The novel begins intriguingly with its numerous references to what will become Arthurian mythology. Lyonesse itself is a historically apocryphal part of the Pendragon/Arthurian Britain, but Vance has no desire for historical accuracy and populates it with wizards, unicorns and monsters that none of the pseudo-realistic Arthurian writers bring out today. His book begins with the lives of several privileged children that are either privy to the political designs of their parents or are being prepared to take them over someday. Naturally that doesn’t happen. Things go awry and several characters wind up stranded, orphaned or whatnot, and the novel generally follows some of them trying to survive, others looking for them, and a little conquest.

While the events of the plot are interesting in theory, Vance has two big problems. Firstly, his children and adults sound almost identical, so it's difficult to maintain a sense of who is who. His annoyed adults sound like bratty kids, and a knowledgeable person of any age or gender has the same voice. Since the book is very driven by dialogue and what characters want right now, even people in very different stations don’t stand out. The only strong differences are when stations effect each other, like a teacher and student or a torturer and victim.

The other problem is that no minor plot point lasts long enough to be significant, so something like a plan for slaves to escape is resolved before it’s intriguing. Sometimes a character will need to do something and the next paragraph will simply say they did it and move the plot on, making one wonder why Vance included the problem at all. Vance also doesn’t develop his characters into anything particularly novel following their trials, so it doesn’t feel like there’s progress despite a great number of things happening. That’s not a good place to start a trilogy.

It's a shame since Vance has a great imagination for the fantastic, and it’s on display from the folktales and anecdotes that open this novel. But what’s charming in the beginning becomes tiring; I read the first half of the novel in two days, but it took me weeks to find the desire to finish it. It’s unfortunate that he didn’t seem to have the attention span to write more than situations and more anecdotes when the actual plot struck.
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