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The Demon Princes by Jack Vance

Review by Mike

The Star King (1964)
The Killing Machine (1964)
The Palace of Love (1967)
The Face (1979)
The Book of Dreams (1981)

These novels tell the classic revenge story. Once the five most infamous criminals in the galaxy, popularly known as the Demon Princes, joined forces in a raid against the village Mount Pleasant. All the inhabitants were either killed or enslaved… all but two, a young boy named Kirth Gersen and his grandfather. Tutored by his grandfather Gersen travels from planet to planet to learn all the skills necessary to become the ultimate assassin. He devotes his life to one single goal – to find and kill all the Demon Princes.

The books were written over a long period of time with quite a long break between book three and four. It’s interesting to notice the difference between the earlier and later stories. The first three books have a “murder mystery” set-up with a number of suspects for who the bad guy is. In the last two books Vance concentrates more on the chase and the motivations of the characters.

The long production period also seems to reflect Vance’s progress as an author. The writing is very imaginative and entertaining all the way through, but in the first set of books his imagination sometimes seems to get out of hand, which makes the read a bit like a plane ride with lots of turbulence. Also, the characters are rather roughly sketched and not always very convincing. I consider them competent journeyman work. The ride is much smoother through the last two books. Vance keeps the weirdness firmly in line and has improved the character development. They are the work of a master of his trade.

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