The Star King: Like James Bond in space

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsscience fiction book reviews Jack Vance The Demon Princes 1. The Star KingThe Star King by Jack Vance

When he was a child, Kirth Gersen’s village was raided and massacred by the five Demon Princes. He and his grandfather escaped and, at his grandfather’s encouragement, Kirth has spent his life training and preparing for revenge. Now it’s time…

Jack Vance‘s DEMON PRINCES saga consists of five short science fiction novels which each tell the tale of how Kirth Gersen tracks down and deals with one of the evil men who killed his family. In the first installment, The Star King, Kirth is looking for Attel Malagate, aka Malagate the Woe, who may be masquerading as a university academic. Along the way, Kirth must get past Malagate’s henchmen, including the memorable Hildemar Dasce, also known as Beauty Dasce or Fancy Dasce:

Into the hall stepped the strangest human being of Gersen’s experience.

“And there,” said Teehalt with a sick titter, “you see Beauty Dasce.”

Dasce was about six feet tall. His torso was a tube, the same gauge from knee to shoulder. His arms were thin and long, terminating in great bony wrists, enormous hands. His head was also tall and round, with a ruff of red hair, and a chin seeming almost to rest on the clavicle. Dasce had stained his neck and face bright red, excepting only his cheeks, which were balls of bright chalk-blue, like a pair of mildewed oranges. At some stage of his career his nose had been cleft into a pair of cartilaginous prongs, and his eyelids had been cut away; to moisten his corneas he wore two nozzles connected to a tank of fluid which every few seconds discharged a film of mist into his eyes. There was also a pair of shutters, now raised, which could be lowered to cover his eyes from the light, and which were painted to represent staring white and blue eyes similar to Dasce’s own.


Kirth Gersen is the type of hero who was popular back in the 1960s when this series was written: a single unattached worldly man who’s clever and brave, but only slightly more clever and brave than his enemies — a James-Bond-type hero. His enemies are James-Bondish, too (Beauty Dasce reminds me of Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker). In fact, these are the kind of books that would make great movies because they’re short, the plot is tight, fast, and action-packed and there’s plenty of violence, but it’s not gory. There’s even a bit of romance and mystery.

But what sets these stories above most novels and movies of this type is Jack Vance’s succinct, perfect prose and the scope of his active imagination. In his science fiction novels, he’s got an entire fictional universe to work with and he makes the most of it, offering us fascinating and ever-changing vistas, races, and cultures.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. That cover is kind of a blast from the past!

  2. The book is way better than the cover suggests!

  3. Oh, I believe it! There was kind of a dark age, I think, when all sf/f covers stank. :laugh:

  4. This is some of the very first SF I ever read, in Dutch translation (“De duivelsprinsen”). I remember being blown away by the excerpts of fictional texts that start the chapters – that was a completely new concept for me at the time, and I loved it. I need to reread these books, and many other Vance novels, at some point.

  5. Stefan, I have that written down to mention with my review of the next book. It’s a nice way to give the reader extra background information, or just sometimes an irrelevant but humorous or insightful tidbit. Vance does that in a lot of his novels. I like it, too.

  6. I need to read these. Vance is one of my all time favorite authors, but I have to shamefully admit I’ve not read any of this series.

  7. Brad /

    I just downloaded the ebook collection of all five novels.I’m only twenty pages in and already hooked. Thanks again for another Vance recommendation, Kat!

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