My book group discussed Lord Valentine’s Castle by Robert Silverberg. It is a fantasy with science fiction elements about a man named Valentine who joins a troupe of jugglers. Valentine remembers little about his past and through dreams begins to discover that he was once king of the land, usurped by a vicious pretender, and that he must gather his strength and companions to regain the throne.
The discussion began with some talk of the plot–a classic fantasy quest. One reader said he felt is was not really science fiction as there was no technology, really. Then another reader launched into the problematic elements of the politics or message of the book in which a monarchy is basically lauded, divine right upheld with brainwashing as an element employed to this end; he felt is was essentially anti-democratic and found this, among other elements, troubling. One reader felt that the power structure was fascinating and unfolded in an interesting way; Silverberg does not present power via one bloodline and there are inherent checks and balances in place.
Lord Valentine’s Castle was published in 1980 after Silverberg took a hiatus from writing. Fans of his earlier, darker work felt that this was his attempt to write a more commercial work. One reader said it was professional in the best and worst sense of the word. Another reader said it is essentially a sword and planet type of book lacking real depth of characterization. Another reader said it was too long and would have been a better book with the journey condensed.
One member who was not able to attend sent an email in which she said she had loved the book, appreciated its diversity of characters and the way in which it conveys a sense that while we are all different we can get along. Silverberg himself, in an SF Signal interview, said that he wanted to convey a huge, joyous landscape in the book.
I enjoyed the book myself, but did note that it may not be the kind of book that holds up well under scrutiny. Not every book, really, is a great discussion book. But, I already knew that anything after Nancy Kress’ Beggars in Spain would pale in comparison.