The lawlessness which characterizes the Beyond (the area
outside the Oikumene
) is legendary. One of the darkest chapters
in this dark history is the infamous NE 1494 raid on the colony of Mount
-- the entire colony murdered or carried off into slavery
thousands of men, women, and children.
Only two people escaped the raid -- Rolf Marr Gersen and his young
grandson, Kirth. From that moment, Kirth Gersen's life was determined.
Gersen formed his grandson into the instrument of his revenge: He inculcated
in Kirth in the necessity of tracking down and killing the perpetrators
of his family's destruction, and made sure Kirth would learn enough to continue on that
Eleven years after his grandfather's death, Gersen tracked down one
of the Demon Princes' henchmen in the affair - a certain Pankarow.
Before finishing Pankarow off, Gersen extracted the names of the five leaders
of the syndicate who had led the raid:
Each one of these "Demon Princes" was well-known as a master criminal --
well, perhaps "well-known" is not accurate enough. They were only
well-known in that their names were uttered, if ever, in terrified whispers. Each commanded a criminal empire capable of perpetrating the most appaling atrocities, and suffering no consequences. No consequences, that is, except for Kirth Gersen.
Jack Vance describes the career of Kirth Gersen, and the downfall
of the five Demon Princes, in five novels:
The Demon Princes
novels are ideal for characterizing my conflicted
feelings about Jack Vance's writing. While he paints a vivid portrait
of his universe, with a writing style guaranteed to weld your eyes to the
pages, I must confess that a couple of things make me uneasy:
Plot. I don't think it would spoil the story to tell you Kirth Gersen
eventually gets his men, every one of them. The novels' draw is the
imaginative way Vance gets Gersen from point A to point B. Again,
I must be careful about my choice of words: "Imaginative" does not describe
the movement of the plot. At the beginning of each novel, Gersen
hears a rumor about one of the Demon Princes, then relentlessly follows
the lead until it leads to the final confrontation with his quarry, on
the last page, or immediately before it. Gersen bandies about the
name of his quarry with reckless abandon; he always knows whom to trust
(few) and whom not to (most everyone). Although Gersen does
suffer setbacks, these are with only one exception of the "fleabite" variety.
The character of Kirth Gersen himself. As a matter of fact, Kirth
Gersen is the least interesting character in the entire series.
Although he occasionally engages in a bit of introspection as to how his
vendetta makes his life less enjoyable than others' lives, he will do whatever
it takes to hunt down his quarry. Although he occasionally pursues
a romantic entanglement or two during while pursuing one of the Demon Princes,
his "monomania" eventually costs him all of these relationships.
Gersen is no James Bond, but perhaps that's a good thing.
In the end, The Demon Princes
novels read like movie serial
the 1930's or 1940's, albeit with a much larger vocabulary. Vance
occasionally reminds one of Kilgore Trout
, although his prose never actually
manages to be purple. Sometimes these novels seem the very thing that Douglas
satirized in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
With all of this criticism taken into account, however, I must point
out that The Demon Princes are currently available in two trade
paperback omnibus editions, and I did spend $18.95 for the
second omnibus after reading the first three novels.
Worth reading, but not life changing. * * * 1/2
You will probably enjoy The Dying Earth or Night Lamp