Completed 3/22/2023, Reviewed 3/22/2023
I was really impressed by this last installment of the Lyonesse trilogy. I felt that it was much more organized with a more relatable main character. It still had a lot of characters, but by this time, I had them all down pretty well. I also felt that the story followed the main character longer with fewer jumps to the subplots. It was more cohesive and overall read much better than the first two books. This book won the 1990 World Fantasy Award. I can’t say it stands on its own. You have to read the first two books to know what is going on in this one. However, everything you need to know is eventually reviewed in this book, but you’d miss out on so much without reading the first two.
This book begins with the changeling that replaced Suldrun’s son in the first book. Madouc is a precocious teenager who like her mother, wants nothing to do with the royal life. She doesn’t want to be a trained in the genteel arts, she only wants to learn what she’s interested in, and most of all, she doesn’t want to marry for political gain to appease her father the King. But unlike her Suldrun, she’s much more creative and aggressive in the way she avoids commands and responsibilities. Eventually, she figures out she’s a changeling and meets her birth mother from the faerie realm. However, the mother does not remember who the father is. So Madouc goes on a quest to find out who he is so she can know her pedigree. Along the way, she also discovers her father the King’s plans to unite the Elder Isles under himself. She also meets Dhrun, the true son of Suldrun with whom she was exchanged.
Madouc is a terrific character, a strong young woman with a passion for what she finds interesting and rejection of the oppressive patriarchy her father and mother condone. It’s her way or no way. I think this is one of the strongest female characters written by a man from a book so old. This book is over thirty years old, and while you would think that female characters would have generally been well written by that time, it wasn’t necessarily true.
Dhrun and his father Aillas appear in the book, but only in much briefer scenes. It’s really too bad because they were the standouts in the previous book, The Green Pearl, and Aillas particularly in the first book, Suldrun’s Garden. Casmir is ruthless and devious as ever. Shimrod comes back and plays an important role in the magical politics of the Isles.
I give this book five stars out of five. This one is a little out of my usual requirement for a perfect score. The book wasn’t perfect. In particular, I thought the ending was rushed, even though the book was already about five hundred pages long. I also didn’t have a visceral reaction at the conclusion. I give it a five star rating because it’s about the best high fantasy trilogy I’ve read in a long time. Vance does a terrific job with the Faerie realm, especially once embodied in Madouc. The prose is flawless and the worldbuilding is simply phenomenal. I highly recommend this book to readers who miss traditional fantasy.