||ack Vance is one of my favorite authors. I must own at least twenty of his novels. He has so many great
works it is hard to identify a favorite - The Dying Earth series? The Lyonesse Trilogy? Planet of Adventure series? The Dragon Masters? Vance has a unique
style, a wonderful gift for constructing fantastic civilizations with bizarre customs (such as all the mask wearers in
The Moon Moth). Despite his ornate language and delight at constructing strange societies, Vance is not a verbose, showy
writer - his characters are usually men of action, not talk (though when they do speak, it is with concise sentences that
usually express air of cyncism mixed with practicality). With the exception of the Lyonese series, most of his book are
relatively short. But Vance packs a lot into a few pages.
Maske is a planet. Thaery is the land on Maske colonized by 13 founding families of a shipwrecked starship.
(There is a fourteenth family, but those humans have become something strange, beyond the pale.) The families have built a
stratified society, where everyone must know their place. (This is a typical Vance setup - he describes a strange, bounded system, and
then introduces a character who chafes under those constraints, and sets about changing things; see Vance's novels: Emphyrio, The
Blue World and To Live For Ever) In this case, the resourceful
hero is Jubal Droat. He is an intelligent, industrious man, but alas - the Droats are from Glentin, the "thirteenth" province of the thirteen founding
families - when he applies for positions, others sneer at him - "Oh, you are just a Glint!". But Jubal will not accept a lowly
position in society, he is determined to advance according to his abilities.
Early in the novel, Jubal is directing a gang of native aliens to build a wall along a roadside, when a party of
guards and a proud noble march up the road. Jubal tries to deter them because of the on-going repairs, but he is swept aside, the construction
work is destroyed, and Jubal is left for dead by the heedless noble. Jubal has made an enemy, and he seeks redress, undeterred by the
man's lofty station.
Jubal travels to the city of Wysrod, seeking redress. He arrives in time to witness a vote on whether the excellent Ramus Ymph
should be allowed to join the council - but Jubal recognizes Ymph as the arrogant noble who left Jubal's broken body beside the road! Jubal
speaks with Nai-the-Hever, who has a vote on the council, and Ymph's candidacy is denied. Now Jubal has made a power enemy indeed.
Jubal's determination gets him a position with Nai-the-Hever's secret intelligence organization. Jubal uses the position to
pursue information on Ymph. The plot develops - attempts are made on Jubal's life, his ancestral home is attacked. More spying reveals
further information - it appears Ymph travels off planet, which is strictly forbidden. What is his agenda? There are betrayals and hidden agendas. Jubal chases after Ymph.
Vance never writes a bad book, but Maske : Thaery isn't one of his best. The final chapters are not that satisfying - Jubal
seeks his revenge, but the fate of Ymph seems more of a deus ex machina, not due to any action taken by Jubal. And what was Ymph up to anyway -
he wanted to build a resort hotel? Maske : Thaery is fun to read simply because of Vance's writing style, his baroque societies. Vance is a stylist,
and it always a treat to read his works. But if you are not a full fledged fan yet, the best introduction to Jack Vance is probably his
Dying Earth books or Lyonesse.