SELECT * FROM uv_BookReviewRollup WHERE recordnum = 954 The Face, by Jack Vance Book Review |

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The Face, by Jack Vance
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Penguin
Published: 1979
Review Posted: 10/31/2006
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 8 out of 10

The Face, by Jack Vance

Book Review by Dave Hardy

Have you read this book?

The Face is the fourth novel in the Demon Princes series. To elucidate that statement, this is the fourth of five stories about Kirth Gersen and his extraordinary efforts to secure revenge for his slaughtered people. The perpetrators of this crime were a loose alliance of notable interstellar criminals known as "The Demon Princes". Gersen bumped off Attel Malagate in "Star King," Kokor Hekkus in "The Killing Machine," and Viole Falushe in "The Palace of Love." Now it is the turn of Lars Larque.

In some ways that's all a bit beside the point. Vance allowed himself considerable latitude in crafting these tales. He has a Patrick O'Brian-like facility for talking about anything except the business at hand. The results are unconventional and highly entertaining. Instead of focussing exclusively on the manhunt, Vance explores the psyche of the criminal or creates elaborate institutions and toys with their workings.

In The Face Vance takes the reader through an elaborate wonderland: half nursery tale nonsense setting, half dystopia. The setting is Dar Sai, home of the Darsh. Vance depicts a society that is the literary equivalent of the scary clown. The Darsh are mischievous pranksters possessed of a vocabulary that would make Lewis Carroll sick with envy, yet they are at heart vile-tempered grumps who eat swill and mate by means of ritualized rape. The Darsh aren't just a cardboard backdrop. Vance explores their social relations, sport, cuisine, entertainment, and sexual habits in great detail. The Darsh are also gifted with an opposite number, the Methlen, a society of over-refined nabobs who have perfected condescension. Vance's linguistic play is spot on in creating a disjointed mood that enthralls, and repels, the reader. The tiny scene where Gersen watches a poorly produced video of "Javil Natkin and the Sly Rogues" will haunt my nightmares for quite a while.

With all my praise for Vance's ability to create a fully rounded setting, it may lead one to believe he has neglected the essential plot elements of pursuit and vengeance. Not so, The Face may be the best balanced of the Demon Prince novels. While we don't get to grips with Lars Larque in as much detail as other villains, Gersen's obsessive quest to catch the interstellar trickster makes for gripping reading. Perhaps more so in that Vance's characters tend less to action-story histrionics than to mournful decorum.

The Face is what one might call sociological space opera. Vance uniquely combined the high-adventure of a classic tale of pursuit and revenge across the galaxy with intricately realized SF worlds and leavened it all with mordant wit. The Face is highly recommended.
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Comments on The Face, by Jack Vance
Posted by Paul C on 8/5/2009
This is one of the best of the Demon Prince Novels, but you must read all 5 to get the full 'flavour'.
If you liked this particular novel then I also suggest 'Night Lamp' by the same author