Maske: Thaery

by Jack Vance
Reviewed date: 2006 Jan 29
Rating: 4
216 pages
cover art

Maske: Thaery is the quintessential Vance novel. The setting is Maske, a bucolic planet whose inhabitants have space travel technology, a complex caste system, and an arcane legal system. The hero is Jubal Droad, an ambitious young man who is unfortunately not the firstborn in his house, so he seeks his fortune in the city of Wysrod. Jubal secures himself a career serving Nai the Hever, an influential ruler. Jubal makes himself indispensable, and there is the usual Vanceian haggling over Jubal's salary. The villain is Ramus Ymph, who Jubal Droad and Hai the Hever discover is regularly making off-planet voyages to other solar systems. Off-planet travel is proscribed.

Maske: Thaery is a mystery story as much as anything else. The curious question is not what Ramus Ymph is doing, but why he is doing it. Jubal Droad and Nai the Hever cannot confront Ramus directly, because the Ymph clan is much too powerful. Therefore, Jubal follows Ramus off-planet to figure out what he is up to. This allows Jack Vance to show us another entire culture, which of course is the highlight of any Vance novel.

That brings us to another typical Vanceism: copious footnotes and a detailed glossary. Rather than sully the prose with infodumps or scenes contrived to reveal cultural tidbits, Vance puts the necessary information into footnotes. You must read the footnotes because they contain critical cultural information without which the book makes little sense. I prefer Vance's footnote method to the infodumps of old.

I rate Maske: Thaery a four out of five--but just barely. It would be a firm four, except that the action kind of peters out at the end--the buildup led me to expect a resolution of planet-shaking proportion. Vance does reveal why Ramus Ymph has been flitting around the galaxy, but the reason is rather mundane. The ending is satisfactory but not up to expectations.

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