But even during my busier weeks, I try to find a way to sneak in some degree of unrelated reading. So I’ve taken on Suldrun’s Garden as bedtime reading. It’s the first in Jack Vance’s Lyonesse trilogy, which, as the name suggests, is set in the mythic land of Lyonnese.
Arthurian legend ala Vance is pretty cool, although it took a few chapters for me to feel committed to the idea. It comes prepackaged with enough phantasmagoria and classic adventure stuff for him to work his usual magic on.
Anyway, the protagonist of the book is Princess Suldrun, the unloved daughter of Casmir, King of Lyonesse. Having wanted a male heir, Casmir only sees Suldrun as valuable insofar as she can be married off to someone for the sake of an alliance. Suldrun meanwhile is an introvert, and something of a free spirit who prefers to spend her time alone in a garden.
So it isn’t the most original story, but what makes it work is, of course, Vance’s prose and Austenian dialogue which is always leagues above 90% of the SF/Fantasy genre, but also how he situates it within the complex geopolitics of his Arthurian world. Suldrun’s own situation is a cog in a larger machine of Machiavellian scheming. It’s a bit similar to what Frank Herbert did with Paul’s whole “chosen one” story arc in Dune.
Another thing of note: I was surprised to find a Vance novel with a female protagonist. Women in Vance’s novels typically don’t stray too far from being damsels in distress. But while Suldrun is indeed a distressed damsel, I appreciate how she comes across as more of a fully realized character than as a walking trope.
I suppose I could complain that the only Christian in the novel is a lecherous priest, but cruelty and perversion are such ubiquitous features of Vance’s worlds that it doesn’t feel like he’s singling out Christians as a particularly odious bunch.