BPAL of the Day: Sea of Glass
Truly the crown jewel of this extraordinarily compelling series. I finished it with deep regret that there are no more. The politics, while present, are generally more interesting than in the previous books and do not detract from nor bog down the story. A goodly part of the book revolves around its heroine Madouc- the remarkable half fairy that was exchanged for Dhrun by the fairies of Thripsey Shee. Madouc was raised in Lyonesse as the daughter of Suldrun. Like Suldrun she was not particularly wanted nor certainly loved. Madouc is of very different temper than poor Suldrun, though, and retains a bright, willful intelligence and strong self esteem. One day she goes out riding her pony with only a stableboy as an escort and they are beset by thieves. Madouc runs into the forest where she learns the truth of her fairy parentage and meets her real mother, Twisk. Twisk isn’t terribly enthusiastic to see her dear daughter, but does give her a comb to order her wild red-gold hair and a very useful little spell to keep her safe from enemies and thugs. Twisk also warns Madouc to never tell the king that Dhrun is Suldrun’s son, as it would put him in great danger.
Madouc learns that the king knows that she is not the daughter of Suldrun, but he intends to marry her off for his own political benefit anyway. While Madouc asserts that she would have jumped the fence in Suldrun’s garden and have been gone on her way, she realizes that her fate could be very like Suldrun’s if she is not careful. She is only about nine-years-old, but she is put on display for the lords at Prince Cassander’s birthday party. She is unhappy and bored until she sees Dhrun and Shimrod arrive. She is drawn to Shimrod immediately and finds Dhrun to be quite handsome. She tells Dhrun she knows the truth, and later she sneaks over to visit with Dhrun and Shimrod. The three get along beautifully and Shimrod gives her another spell to use so she can protect herself from malicious behavior.
Shimrod is busy cataloguing the artifacts taken from Tamurello when he receives a summons from Murgen. Shimrod is sent to investigate a demon from another world and capture him if possible. His investigation takes him back to the villa of Melancthe. And it was here when I finally understood the non-physical aspect of Shimrod’s fascination with her. She is quite a puzzle for him to solve and, as I said in my review of ‘Green Pearl’, his inherent romantic optimism and indomitable will leads him to believe he can change her, or make her whole as the case may be. The sad truth of her nature as an automation for the use of and direction by Desmei and Tamurello is immutable, but I cannot blame Shimrod for wanting to help her and free her from their evil influence.
Madouc, displaying courage, wit and resourcefulness far in advance of her years, manages to incite Casmir’s wrath, but still escape relatively unscathed and with the oblique permission to seek her pedigree wherever it may be found. She takes her favorite stable boy whom she dubbed Sir Pom-pom, and visits Twisk at Thripsey Shee. Twisk tells her the story of how she had been accosted by a troll who chained her to a post in the middle of the forest with the curse that she must be used by three men in order to be freed. Twisk was certain that one of these was Madouc’s father. The fairies came up with a plan for Madouc to capture the three men. Later a fairy named Osfer used a kind of fairy magic version of DNA testing to discover Madouc’s paternity. When none of the three was a fit, he tried another test which recreated the face of Madouc’s father by subtracting her mother’s influence and piecing together what was left. (Really quite brilliant!) The face seemed familiar to Madouc and filled her with warmth. Twisk recognized the face as being that of a wandering minstrel-knight she dallied with on an idyllic and highly romantic afternoon. The horrors of her ordeal chained to the post drove the affair from her mind. The knight’s name was given as ‘Sir Pellinore’. Twisk never saw him again.
Madouc and her little band, including Sir Pom-pom who sought the Holy Grail and a man in search of his lost youth visited an ogre whom Twisk feared might have taken Sir Pellinore. After a fruitless (for Madouc) and harrowing adventure Madouc and Sir Pom-pom return to Lyonesse town.
Meanwhile Shimrod has a harrowing adventure of his own wherein Murgen sends him in disguise to seek out an outlaw in league with demons. Along the way he meets up with and foils a band of cutthroats paid by King Casmir to assassinate Aillas.
The finale is extraordinary. Madouc shows her precocity, ingenuity, will and tremendous courage at a gathering of the kings of the Elder Isles where she lays bare the plots of King Casmir. Murgen is beset by demons and renegade magicians which threaten the fragile safety of the Elder Isles. We finally learn the full, sad reason for Melancthe’s existence and war comes between Lyonesse and the rest of the Elder Isles. The ending is immensely satisfying in every way and the final revelation of the identity of Madouc’s father is just perfect.
My only disappointment was that we don’t see Glyneth again. She seems to be busy being pregnant off screen for the whole book. :/
Unreservedly ***** STARS!
I would like to retract my view of the series as misogynistic. While the world itself is pretty misogynistic, Madouc is easily equal to the best of the men and Glyneth, though kind and gentle, was not presented as helpless. Madouc is easily the most exciting and remarkable heroine I’ve encountered in a very long time, if not ever. She reminds me a bit of Phillip Pullman’s Lyra Belaqua (sp?), only with a much better personality and a more forthright character.
There are brilliant little touches of whimsy and humor that work without being incongruous in a rather serious story and witty prose that provides just the right amount of atmosphere and setting. Most of the characters are intriguing and the story is a fanfic writer or roll player’s paradise with so much that goes on off screen that just cries out for exploration and extrapolation. Recreating Jack Vance’s whimsically witty atmosphere would be the greatest challenge in writing Lyonesse fanfic.
I’m currently rereading parts of the books. (Mostly those relating to Shimrod and Madouc.) When I’m done it will be hard to start something different after having been with these characters in this world so long. That this book is out of print as a physical book is a tragedy! (So is the fact that The Dying Earth isn’t available in eBook!)
Now I am down to reviewing the six Patricia McKillip books, a few short stories, two movies and a concert. Still quite a lot, actually…