This book very cleverly covers the adolescence of the boy Hissune between his first meeting with Valentine in LORD VALENTINE'S CASTLE and his later career on Castle Mount. Hissune works as a clerk in the House of Records of the Labyrinth of Majipoor - the underground city from which the Pontifex administers the bureaucracy that runs most of the life of Majipoor. Hissune is young, restless - and in the same complex lies the Register of Souls, that treasurehouse of memory recordings from lives scattered all through the thousands of years of Majipoor's history. It's closed to all but authorized personnel, but Hissune isn't one to resist a challenge, and once he gets in, he begins sampling lives - the short stories making up this book, tied together with short passages wherein Hissune's reaction to the events he experienced sometimes provides an artistic rounding off of the story, in cases where he knows how the story turned out. As it happens, his explorations are set out in chronological order as he works forward in time.
"Thesme and the Ghayrog" - For his first venture into the Register, Hissune selects a woman 9000 years dead on the far continent of Zimroel. Thesme, like Thoreau, went to the woods to live deliberately - more or less. Living half a day's walk from town, she had become ever more solitary, and welcomed the company of the injured Ghayrog she rescued in the forest. (Ghayrogs, introduced in LORD VALENTINE'S CASTLE, are sleepless for much of the year, so it's no joke for one to be laid up with a broken leg so far from civilization, without access to the entertainment even healthy Ghayrogs need to alleviate boredom.)
"The Time of the Burning" - Hissune, curious about the legendary Coronal Lord Stiamot, who conquered Majipoor's native intelligent species - the Metamorphs - seeks out the recording of a soldier of his army in the last days of the war.
"In the Fifth Year of the Voyage" - Huge as Majipoor's three continents are, they cover only a small area of the planet's surface; the Great Sea, most of which has never been explored, makes up the rest. But once, long ago in the reign of Coronal Lord Arioc, Sinnabor Lavon sought glory on the shores of Alhanroel by setting out to sail the long way around. (An incident from this story is the basis of the Jim Burns cover painting on the 1983 paperback edition.)
"Calintane Explains" - Oddly enough, although all the short stories herein are memory recordings, only this one is presented from the first person viewpoint of the soul thus recorded. Arioc, the Coronal mentioned in the previous story, became one of the most famous Pontifexes in Majipoor's history, although the truth has been obscured by time. Hissune in this case sought out the memory of a member of Arioc's court in the Labyrinth to find out what really happened.
"The Desert of Stolen Dreams" - Something of how the Barjazid family came to hold Majipoor's fourth crown, that of the King of Dreams, although not the whole story.
"The Soul-Painter and the Shapeshifter" - The tale of a man who fell in love with a Metamorph.
"Crime and Punishment" - On present-day Majipoor, the King of Dreams oversees the punishment of criminals by visiting them with retribution in their dreams. Hissune, interested in the process, seeks out the memory recording of a murderer. Murder is relatively uncommon on Majipoor, because the King of Dreams provides a legendary deterrent...
"Among the Dream-speakers" - After the previous story, Hissune (who doesn't share Majipoor's traditional attitude toward dreams) wants to know more about dream-speakers, who serve as intermediaries between the worlds of waking and dream, interpreting sendings of the Lady and of the King of Dreams. Hissune thus seeks out a recording of Tisana of Zimroel, made early in her life: her memories of her final Testing for dream-speaker. See LORD VALENTINE'S CASTLE for Hissune's previous encounter with her.
"A Thief in Ni-Moya" - Inyanna, a small shopkeeper on Zimroel, lost everything she had when a pair of con artists convinced her that she had inherited the estate known as Nissimorn Prospect - as she learned too late. But the registered thieves of the Great Bazaar took her in when they learned of her plight...
"Voriax and Valentine" - A recording left by Valentine himself, a memory of a holiday with his brother Voriax, and how they met a forest witch who offered them an impossible prophecy. After all, how could they *both* be destined to become Coronal?