Literature / Lyonesse

Lyonesse is a sprawling fantasy trilogy by Jack Vance, comprising three volumes:

  • Lyonesse (aka Suldrun's Garden or Lyonesse: Suldrun's Garden),
  • The Green Pearl (aka Lyonesse: The Green Pearl), and
  • Madouc (aka Lyonesse: Madouc), winner of the World Fantasy Award in 1990.

The series is set on the mythical lost great isle of Hybras, located off the coast of France, between Britain and Spain. The isle is divided into several kingdoms, and three kings want to rule it all. Aillas, the youthful king of Troicinet is shipwrecked on the coast of Lyonesse, where he meets and falls in love with Princess Suldrun, the daughter of his rival, King Casmir. Things don't go well for the couple, and their child, Prince Dhrun, ends up stolen by fairies, while the changeling, Madouc, left in its place, gets adopted by King Casmir, who believes she's his granddaughter. Then the story branches off into a complex web of interlocking tales, involving Royal ambition, nefarious wizards, tricksy fairies, and northern barbarians.

Tropes in this series:

  • Another Dimension: There is a long section set in Tanjecterly. It's a strange place where trees are different colors, and the heroine is menaced by grotesque, slime-eating creatures called Progressive Eels.
  • Atlantis: The beginning of the book explains that Hybras will sink into the ocean some time after the current story. The name Lyonesse comes from a legend of a land near Cornwall that sank beneath the waves. Likewise, the City of Ys also comes from a legend of a city near Brittany that also sank into the sea. Finally, the name Hybras itself is reminiscent of Hy-Brasil, a legendary disappearing island near Ireland.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Aillas is born to a royal line and is the best swordsman in the series.
  • Baleful Polymorph: happens to Tamurello, who is turned into a weasel. Another magician, who defied Murgen's rule of non-interference, is said to have been compressed into an iron pillar nine feet high and one foot square.
  • Bad Luck Charm: The Green Pearl features the eponymous item which will turn anyone who owns it to evil, until somebody else murders them to possess it. At one point the chain is broken when the owner is rendered helpless by somebody who's only interested in punishing him, and the pearl is temporarily forgotten.
  • Big Bad: King Casmir is Aillas's chef adversary for rule of the Elder Isles.
  • Big Good: Murgen—something of an Expy to Merlin—is a powerful magician who provides advice and acts to counterbalance the actions of the more villainous magicians.
  • Changeling Tale: Princess Madouc is a relatively innocuous example.
  • Clingy MacGuffin: The green pearl is so beautiful that it fills the hearts of everyone who sees it with greed. Unfortunately, the pearl is cursed: no-one will buy it, and if thrown away or given away it will always return to the current owner (even if it has to animate a corpse to carry it back). It can however be transferred by being stolen, which half the time involves the murder of the current owner.
  • Dawson Casting: literary example: Dhrun, Aillas' son, is raised by the fairies under Year Inside, Hour Outside conditions, and is thus about eight years older than he should be. People who don't know this end up wondering if the two are brothers, or how Aillas managed to father him in the first place.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The trilogy begins with the birth and upbringing of the spirited Princess Suldrun. At about the halfway point of book one, however, she dies. The rest of the series divides its focus amongst a number of other characters, including her lover, son and father.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Melancthe to Shimrod, literally. He's so distracted he utterly forgets to keep track of the very dangerous people he's supposed to be keeping an eye on, with interesting consequences.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Melancthe's death is cruelly abrupt and painful.
  • Emotionless Girl: Melancthe has emotions, but no sense of self, which makes it impossible for her to interpret or control them.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Joald. Waking him up is sufficent to submerge the land of Ys.
  • The Fair Folk: They aren't downright malicious, but tend towards the whimsical in negligent or destructive fashion. Fear to tread...
  • Fairy in a Bottle: Casmir keeps one in his secret magic collection. It's not one of the nice ones.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The aristocracy of Lyonesse seems to be vaguely Germanic, Dahaut is pre-Revolutionary France, and the Ska are based on the Vikings. Troicinet represents Britain. All of these are based not so much on modern images of these cultures as on representations from the 19th century or earlier (Troicinet is a sea power and balances the other nations; the Ska aren't noble warriors but fearsome and heartless raiders, similar to portrayals of Vikings in mediaeval English sources.)
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: King Casmir imprisons Prince Aillas at the bottom of an oubliette. Aillas gradually loses his sanity and starts thinking of the skeletons of former inmates as friends and comrades in adversity. He gets better after escaping.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Madouc's hair is vivid red-gold. She ends up marrying Dhrun.
  • Little Miss Snarker: Princess Madouc, much to the consternation of Queen Sollace
  • Loving a Shadow: Aillas falls in love with the haughty viking-like maiden Tatzel while being a slave at her father's castle. He escapes, comes back as a warrior king, kidnaps her and undergoes many adventures together with her, saving her life several times. Throughout he acts as the perfect gentleman, not taking advantage of his power over her. At one moment she actually offers him sexual favors in exchange for her liberty - but Aillas, wanting a love she is unwilling and unable to give him, declines the offer and sets her free anyway. Finally, when Aillas brings his army to assault the castle, Tatzel takes up a bow and arrow and dies among the last-ditch defenders. The victorious Aillas sadly refuses to look for "the body of the valiant maiden" among the scorched bodies in the ruins of the castle, and goes on to find another and more rewarding love.
  • Magic Feather: The boy Dhrun is given a talisman that he's told will avert fear. Whenever he feels afraid, he wonders what emotion it might be, since it certainly couldn't be fear, eventually deciding that it's anger. While doing heroic things, he frequently notes how fortunate it is that he can't feel fear, because he certainly would be terrified right about now. The talisman eventually gets broken and replaced with a regular stone, but it continues to work until he realizes the replacement.
  • Master Swordsman: Aillas reveals himself to be a "demon with a sword."
  • Medieval European Fantasy: Lyonesse has a style similar to classic Arthurian romance, full of deliberate anachronisms.
  • Nightmare Fuel: In-universe—what Faud Carfilhiot has done to the people in his dungeons is never revealed. Considering that one of the things we do know that he did is to amputate the arms and legs of King Quilcy and his courtiers and hang them from perches like birds...
  • Pædo Hunt: Blink and you'll miss it, but King Casmir notes that he restricts himself to one boy a month, which he believes makes him practically an ascetic.
  • Royally Screwed Up: The king of South Ulfland's single son, Prince Quilcy, is feeble-minded and spends his days playing with fanciful doll-houses.
  • Someday This Will Come in Handy: The first time we meet Aillas, the castle bailiff, Tauncy, waxes poetic about the beauty and utility of knife-throwing during their weapons practice. It comes in handy later.
  • The Stoic: the Ska's Hat. They show no emotion to any but their closest family—even in the face of death.
  • Thrown Down a Well: In Suldrun's Garden, Aillas is lowered into an Oubliette ("a bell-shaped cell fourteen feet in diameter and seventy feet underground"). He finds the previous occupants still down there as skeletons. One of them as written "Welcome to our brotherhood" on the wall.
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: Melancthe is referred to as this by name.