Maske : Thaery


Jack Vance


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

August 12, 2007

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.