on 30 August 2001
The only trouble with Vance is that he is so engaging. It feels as if he is drawing you in to the very story itself. I love "The Face", though not so much the character behind it. But I'm transported to Sailmaker Beach, Tintle's Shade, laughing at the misfortunes of Maxel Rackrose. And sadly, Vance's tour of Methel and Dar Sai is the nearest I'm ever going to get to these exotic places! I'd book a trip if Thomas Cook could arrange it, price be blowed!
With the Book of Dreams I was whisked off to a far more innocent world to face the curious customs and the somehow sad fate of Howard Alan Treesong...How Vance ever thinks up such convincing varieties of cultures, I don't know. I've read all these stories at least twice each but I don't tire of them, and I think that's because they are essentially characters in refreshingly different worlds and cultures, and plainly excellent stories. The little science that comes into them is run-of-the-mill and I'd turn to other authors if I wanted hard technology.
on 30 May 1998
If you are a Vance fan and don't have a copy of the Demon Princes series, rush out and get this while you can. The last two volumes of the series were written some 10 or 12 years or so after the first three, and these last volumes represent some of Vance's best work. Vol. 2 details the culmination of Kirth Gersen's revenge on the Demon Princes who wiped out his family.
In "The Face" (my favorite of the 5), Kirth finally confronts Lens Larque. Larque is a person who enjoys seeking revenge on anyone who stands in his way. He evades Gersen's attempts at bringing him to justice while simultaneously tricking Gersen out of milllions of SVU ($). Gersen eventually tracks down Larque, who is busy with an ingenious scheme for getting revenge against an entire planet. In one of Vance's most satisfying endings, Gersen denies Larque his revenge, while paying back Larque (in the usual way) and everyone else who wronged him.
"The Book Dreams" is possibly one of Vance's most violent works. As Gersen relentlessly tracks down the insane Howard Alan Treesong, he uncovers a diabolical plot in which Treesong is methodically attempting to become the ruler of the entire known universe. In several confrontations, Gersen repeatedly guns down Treesong and dozens of his minions, only to have Treesong escape at the last possible second with minor injuries. Eventually, however, Gersen lures Treesong to a place where he can confront him alone. The ending is somewhat amusing, in that Gersen runs into people who are even more fanatical about killing Treesong than he. Nevertheless, Treesong is brought to justice in typical Vancian style.
on 4 January 2004
Well I can only agree with the previous reviews here. The Face could well be Jack Vance's greatest work, even above Cugel's Saga in the Dying Earth series. The search for Lens Larque is concluded with the discovery of the most incredible joke in the universe, masterminded by a criminal with a superior sense of humour. I defy any reader of this book not to laugh when the plot is finally revealed (although in fairness I figured it out beforehand, which just adds to the satisfaction).
And then on to the Book of Dreams, which is almost, but not quite, as good, yet would be recognised as a great masterpiece by any normal writer. It is distinctly possible that Howard Alan Treesong is indeed Vance's most violent villain, and the character is all the better for it. Treesong's tale is that of the ultimate revenge combined with what is one of the most audacious criminal plots imaginable in the society in which it is set. Yet another fantastic book by Jack Vance.
I consider the Demon Princes books to be Jack Vance's greatest work, even above that of the Dying Earth. If you haven't already, get the first volume of the series, containing the first three books, and then get this volume, for the best read you will ever experience.
on 18 January 1999
A fan of the atmospheric, if somewhat quixotic, style of Jack Vance must surely rate The Face as one of his best works and certainly the most satisfying of the 'Demon Princes' novels. The search for Lens Larque and the puzzle of his latest plan of revenge holds the reader's attention throughout and Vance succeeds particularly well at what he does best, painting a vivid, sometimes disturbing, sometimes amusing picture of other-worldly societies.
on 12 October 2008
I can only echo what others have already written. I've been reading 3-4 F/SF books a week for nearly 50 years and Vance is undoubtedly the best writer I have found.
What I like is his unique way of taking human peccadilloes and creating (only too) believeable societies based around them. It also never ceases to amuse how Vance's societies work their way around whatever peculiar rules their predecessor's mores have created, without ever directly challenging the status quo.
Also common to all these societies is their absolute readiness to take advantage of strangers. Vance's heroes (/antiheroes) have an (understandable in Vance's universe I think) attitude that might be best summed up as, "Do unto others as they would do unto you, but do it first", but of course they are not able to pull this off as often as they would like. The resulting scrapes and narrow escapes are what gives his books their edge.
The Demon Princes is regarded by many, including me, as his finest work. My view is that in this series he adds a number of things to the mix not found elsewhere. Firstly his hero, Gersen, is both heroic (not something that Cugel and many others could be accused of) *and* flawed. The flaw is his monomania. But that monomania gradually comes under attack and this adds one interest not to be found in many of his other books.
The second main addition compared with many other books is the amount of action, which would not disgrace a straight up space romp. However it's written in a gritty and realistic manner that seems in many ways years ahead of its time. The third element is the Princes themselves, probably Vance's finest creations. How each of these cruel and malevolent criminal masterminds have come to exist is explained in the story in a manner both amusing and believable.
What actually makes the books great is that these different strands, each of which would make the books way above average on their own, are woven together into one masterwork.
And now for your immediate pleasure, I give one of the little headings that start off each chapter:
"Hmpffff... Falushe? He's is nothing more than a ponce.... an obscene fat who dreams of little girls that worship him. Did you know he's impotent?"
- Clipping from an interview with Woodrow Ink III, published by Olmen Garth. Note: Garth's body was found - heavily mutilated - on Sailmaker Beach, shortly after publication of the interview.
In 1979, Jack Vance returned to the saga of Kirth Gersen after a decade's pause. Somehow he managed to keep the writing relatively seamless despite the interregnum, and its back to the Oikumene we go - but notably not to Beyond, the setting of some earlier Demon Princes work. This volume is a collection of The Face and The Book of Dreams, in which Gersen tracks down Lens Larque and Howard Alan Treesong respectively, and - at last - comes to the end of his quest with a final statement which echoes the end of The Worm Ourobouros published in 1922 (and in which the protagonists are referred to as "demons"). Somehow this ending is more than satisfactory, despite being all too brief.
The adventures themselves are a mixture of action, adventure and detective work: indeed the unmasking of Lens Larque is almost an afterthought with other adversaries to overcome and mysteries to solve. But the stories are both vintage Vance: James Bond in space with better wisecracks is a fair and reasonably accurate summary, for all it misses the point completely.
The Book of Dreams is the final piece of the puzzle, and Howard Alan Treesong perhaps the most memorable villian - and perhaps the most pitiable, in a fashion. All up, the Demon Princes series is some of Vance's best work, equal to Planet of Adventure or Alastor, and behind only Lyonesse and Dying Earth in his longer works category.
on 8 May 2008
In some ways I envy those of you that have yet to read the two stories contained in this 2nd Demon Princes' Volume. A rare pleasure most surely awaits you. I have read & re-read these stories countless times but can still remember vividly my sense of wonder & incredulity as I reached the extraordinary conclusion of The Face for the first time. I will not spoil it by saying more as you are best advised to read the book with as little foreknowledge as possible. If you've already read the first volume of Demon Prince stories then you'll know roughly what to expect here but you might be pleasantly surprised by a maturing of Vance's writing style. There is still the usual mixture of exotic peoples & locations but his hero has become a little more 3-dimensional, a little less obsessive, & there is a lighter, more humourous feel throughout, despite the usual helpings of violent confrontation in many of the episodes. The school re-union scene in The Book of Dreams is the undoubted centrepiece of the story & takes the idea of grim amusement to new levels. Enjoy !
It is really not easy to maintain the high quality level in five succesive novels about the same hero - well, Jack Vance did it. The two last parts of the "Prince Demons" are even better that the first three. "The Face" is possibly the masterpiece of the series, although the villain from "The Book of Dreams" is much more evil and complexe. The endings of both these books are unique and surprising - and at the end of the saga Kirth Gersen remains one of the darkest and most interesting heroes in SF.
on 26 January 2008
This book is one of the five best in SciFi, and all five of those best belong to the Demon Princes series. While the stories are each excellent, the culture depicted by Vance is extraordinary and hugely interesting. Even if you never read another SciFi book, read these five.
on 30 June 2014
Beware: missing pages 143-158
Wonderful stories, shame about the book production