Madouc - Jack Vance I first read the Lyonesse trilogy in the early ‘90s (Suldrun’s Garden, The Green Pearl, Madouc) and enjoyed it, especially the first book, as I recall. The “Lyonesse” entry on Wikipedia offers a very thorough plot summary, though with spoilers galore (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyonesse_Trilogy).

The trilogy is vintage Vance. Full of his usual sardonic wit, odd characters and wonderful writing, a sample of which I reproduce below. The scene is from chapter 12 of The Green Pearl; Aillas and his captive Ska maiden, Tatzel, are crossing North Ulfland and come to a farmstead where Aillas finds himself engaged in a philosophical debate with the farmer regarding greed vs. altruism:

The same ideas had occurred to Cwyd. He said: “Hear how the storm yells, like a giant in pain!” And again, with russet eyes fixed knowingly upon Aillas: “Pity the poor traveler who must brave such ferocities! And all the while we sit snug before our fire!” And again: “In conditions like this the word ‘avarice’ loiters sickly by the wayside while the concept of ‘gratitude’ marches forward in triumph, like Palaemon’s conquering army!”

Aillas responded: “When storms rage, then is when folk become aware of their common humanity, and like you and Threlka, they willingly extend hospitality to those unfortunate enough to be at disadvantage, just as you, in your hour of inconvenience, will hope for the same! In these cases, the thought of payment is cause for embarrassment, and the host cries out: ‘What do you take me for? A jackal?’ It is heartwarming to meet such folk out here on the high moors!”

“Exactly so!” cried Cwyd. “Out here on the high moors where conditions are so hard, ‘sharing’ is the watchword, and each gives of what he has without stint! I open my larder wide and light my best and most cheerful blaze; you are of the same disposition with your superfluity of silver coins; thus we honor each other!”

“Precisely to the point!” declared Aillas. “I will reckon up my little store of coins and whatever I find to be superfluous you shall have! We are in accord; let us say no more on the subject….”

Cwyd mused. “Our conversations have raised a number of interesting points. I could describe every turn of a long road, reciting each of the perils to be found along the way and its remedy, thus saving your life a dozen times, and you would gratefully reward me with a bag of gold. However, if I casually mentioned that the man you wished to see at the end of this road were dead, you might thank me but give me nothing, though all went to the same effect. Is there not an inherent disequilibrium at work here?”

“Yes indeed,” said Aillas. “The paradox resides once again in the distortions worked upon the fabric of our life by greed. I suggest that we free ourselves of this ignoble vice, and seek to help each other with full and wholehearted zeal.”

Cwyd grumbled: “In short, you refuse to pay me what my information is worth?”

“If you saved my life even once, how should I pay you? The concept is meaningless. For this reason such services are generally held to be free.”

“Still, if I saved your life a dozen times, as well as your father and mother and the virtue of your sister, and you gave me a single copper groat, at least I could put my belly up to the board and drink a mug of beer to your health.”

“Very well,” said Aillas. “Tell me all you know. It may be worth a copper groat.”

Cwyd threw his hands in the air. “At least in dealing with you I exercise my tongue…. Where do you fare?”
(pp. 218-220)

Having reread the trilogy, I find that this time I liked the third book best. The best parts were Aillas’ tale before he becomes king of Troicinet; Dhrun’s adventures after he’s expelled by the fairies from Thripsey Shee; and Madouc’s quest to find out who her father is. In between these passages, the story tends to lose focus and power, and becomes a soap opera of political machinations.

Despite such reservations, the trilogy remains one of my favorite Vance works. Like Kirth Gersen of the Demon Princes series and Miro Hetzel of The Galactic Effectuator, Aillas and Madouc have remained memorable characters, and I would certainly recommend this to any interested reader or Vance fan.