Here’s another thoroughly delightful installment (book 4 of 5) of The Demon Princes. The plot is as usual: Kirth Gersen is hunting down one of the Demon Princes who destroyed his family and homeland when he was a boy. There’s no doubt that Gersen will kill Lens Larque; the question is how he’ll kill him and what adventures he’ll have on the way.
The Face distinguishes itself by introducing a couple of cultures which Vance uses to make fun of human behavior. Lens Larque is one of the Darsh of the planet Dar Sai. They’re a large ugly people with a disgusting cuisine, a fondness for flagellation, and some pretty entertaining mating habits. Their women have a short period of beauty during adolescence, but then become meaty, mustached, and mean. Thus, the men chase only the young women and the older women capture young men who aren’t big enough to resist. (Vance mentions that “the system has permutations unnecessary now to explore.”) The Darsh also have an exciting game of survival called hadaul.
The other culture is the Methlen. These folks are snobs who look down on everyone else in the universe. They live in Llalarkno, an exclusive country club type area of the planet Methel, and they don’t want anyone who’s not Methlen living there. They especially hate the Darsh whose planet is close to theirs. When Lens Larque tries to buy a house in Llalarkno, he’s insulted and run-off by the neighbor. He hatches an elaborate plan to get even and Kirth Gersen gets involved with both societies as he tries to track down the elusive Larque.
The Face is hilarious and has a particularly clever and satisfying ending. You don’t really need to read the previous Demon Princes books to enjoy The Face, but why wouldn’t you?
The Demon Princes — (1964-1981) Publisher: Kirth Gersen carries in his pocket a slip of paper with a list of five names written on it. Theses are the names of the five Demon Princes who led the historic Mount Pleasant Massacre, which destroyed not only Kirth’s family but his entire world as well. He roams the universe, searching the endless galaxies of space, hunting down the Demon Princes and exacting his revenge.
One thing puzzles me about this novel and Vance’s depiction of “Lens Larque” as a criminal. The 4 other Demon Princes seem to operate on a much grander scale than Larque. The others each exploit the human populations of entire planets, but in comparison Larque seems like a petty criminal, occasionally committing a crime on his home planet. Maybe back in the days of the Mount Pleasant Massacre, Falushe and Treesong were also relatively petty criminals and Larque is the only one of those three who has not vastly expanded the scope of his criminal activities. Maybe Larque simply lacks ambition to be a great criminal and he spends too much time and effort playing complicated tricks on his enemies.
Thanks for the comment, John! It’s been so long since I read this that I can’t remember the details about Lens Larque but I do remember other scenes from this book and the two weird cultures Vance presents. Time for a re-read!