The Demon Princes

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A Science Fiction pentalogy by Jack Vance, comprising these volumes:

  1. Star King (1964)
  2. The Killing Machine (1964)
  3. The Palace of Love (1967)
  4. The Face (1979)
  5. The Book of Dreams (1981)

Re-released in a two volume omnibus edition in 1997, simply titled The Demon Princes: Volume 1 and The Demon Princes: Volume 2.

Set in the Oikumene, a loose federation of planets, they chronicle the adventures of one Kirth Gersen as he exacts his revenge on five supercriminals — the "Demon Princes" — for their raid on his hometown, causing the death or enslavement of every inhabitant except himself and his grandfather.

Tropes used in The Demon Princes include:

Kirth Gersen: Go out into your back garden. There's a great Darsh face hanging over the garden wall.

  • Devil in Plain Sight: The Princes are very good at concealing themselves despite their notorious reputations.
  • Doomed Hometown: The Mount Pleasant colony.
  • The Dragon: Attel Malagate has Beauty Dasce as his Dragon. Howard Alan Treesong has two Co-Dragons.
  • Dreadful Musician: Gersen once goes undercover as a band member. Eventually, the target gets fed up and orders him thrown in the river. Hilarity Ensues. And you can also put an S on the front of "laughter".
  • Duel of Seduction: Alice Wroke has been told by Treesong to seduce Gersen for information. Gersen, however, is way ahead of her, and chooses to simply Feed the Mole.
  • Coup De Grace: Howard Alan Treesong--to himself.
    • Also indirectly Suthiro the poisoner, whom Gersen has infected with cluthe but who still needs a finishing shot when Gersen nearly gets too close.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Jerdian Chanseth, from The Face, and Jheral Tinzy, from The Palace of Love.
  • Evil Is Petty: All five Demon Princes are seen exacting Disproportionate Retribution for relatively minor slights.
  • Evil Overlooker: Justified in The Face: it's actually foreshadowing.
  • Feudal Future: The planet Thamber in The Killing Machine.
    • Specifically, it's being kept in medieval stasis by Kokor Hekkus for his personal playground.
  • Fictional Document: Lots of these are used through all five books to round out the setting. Notable documents include the multi-volume Life by Unspiek, Baron Boddissey, (excomunicated from the human race); The Avatar's Apprentice, a Scroll of the Ninth Dimension, a narrative romance populated by tricksters and used as an Epigraph whenever shenanigans are about to go down; and The Demon Princes by Caril Carphen, used as an Encyclopedia Exposita.
  • Foreign Queasine: Half the food in the Oikumene.
  • Food Porn: The other half.
  • Footnote Fever: The footnotes are seldom important to the core plot, instead adding color and forcing the reader to imagine what various strange words would sound like.
  • Freudian Excuse: Almost all of the Demon Princes have poor or at least pathetic backgrounds, but that's far from justifying their crimes.
  • Gilded Cage: Interchange in The Killing Machine, a planet whose sole purpose is to house kidnap victims awaiting their ransom.
  • Gotta Kill Them All: Except for Howard Alan Treesong, whom Gersen is satisfied has been broken as a man.
  • Green-Skinned Space Babe: Pallis Atwrode in Star King. It's actually an artificial dye which she puts on for a date; she wore an iridescent silver shade when first encountered.
  • Hair of Gold: Alusz Iphigenia from The Killing Machine.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Alice Wroke from The Book of Dreams.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Averted. Marksmanship is Gersen's weakest point compared to his ninja-like hand-to-hand skills; in The Book of Dreams he has two opportunities to shoot at Howard Alan Treesong, and fails to deal a killing blow both times.
  • Insult Backfire:

Gersen:: "In your youth, you committed many outrages."
Navarth: "I'm a mad poet! I've committed outrages my whole life!"

  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique
  • Karmic Death: Malagate is killed by the world he wanted to conquer.
  • Last Girl Wins: Alice Wroke
  • Love Makes You Evil: Demon Princes Howard Alan Treesong (The Book of Dreams) and Viole Falushe (The Palace of Love). Especially Viole Falushe; losing the Book of Dreams that symbolically contained Treesong's dreams of a greater future was a just as big, if not bigger, catalyst for his evil.
  • Mad Artist: Navarth the poet (The Palace of Love). Depending on your tastes, his poems as seen in the book may be a fine example of Stylistic Suck.
  • Masochist's Meal: Darsh food is intentionally vile: the people of Dar Sai seem to pride themselves on their ability to stomach it. The once-mentioned Sandusker cult also has the same attitude to their food. And part of The Book Of Dreams revolves around a banquet for the highest-ranking members of The Institute at which charnay is served - a foodstuff which, apart from being fruit, is more or less a direct stand-in for fugu.
  • Master Poisoner: The planet Sarkovy's Hat is brewing and finding creative ways to administer poisons. The higher ranks of their grand masters can be Poisonous Persons, although in a touch of realism, these people tend to die rapidly themselves. Hero Kirth Gersen spent several instructive years there, to the point of being able to outwit and infect a rival Master Poisoner.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: A subtle example with Howard Alan Treesong and his Split Personalities: one of his captors says that it should have been impossible for him to commit suicide the way he did without help.
  • Mugging the Monster:
  • Name's the Same: The Dragon in Star King, Beauty Dasce, used the alias "Spock" on one planet, and there are some characters who actually speak of him as "Mr. Spock." This book was published before the first Star Trek: The Original Series episode.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Each of the Demon Princes has selected a name that appeals to him: Lens Larque is a predatory bird from his native planet; Howard Alan Treesong is named for the hero of an obscure story cycle; Kokor Hekkus' Meaningful Name comes from the screeching sound made by his title beheading machine.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Kokor Hekkus.
  • Noble Savage: The Darsh don't appear particularly noble, but then Gersen enters one of their competitions -- and they treat him with courtesy and respect. The contest involves fighting, but those Darsh who aren't fighting him are polite, and even praise his courage and tactical ability. This is in sharp contrast to the snobbish elite of neighboring world Methel.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Gersen gives one of these to a barbarian chieftain in The Killing Machine.
  • Not So Different: In The Face, Kirth Gersen decides to carry out Lens Larque's final plan — and for pretty much the exact same reason.
  • Omniscient Council of Vagueness: The Institute, again. Purposely, as it turns out.
  • Papa Wolf: Navarth is a partial example. Although a neglectful and... erratic... parent to Drusilla / Jheral IV, he is still willing to go to great lengths and privations to get her back.
  • Planet of Hats: Sarkovy, a Planet of Poisoners (mentioned in Star King and featured in The Palace of Love) as well as Methel (The Face), a Planet of Snobs. One of the planets of The Book of Dreams is clearly influenced by the Deep South.
  • Really Seven Hundred Years Old: Kokor Hekkus has been operating for two hundred and eighty-seven years.
  • Rescue Sex: Jerdian Chanseth.
  • Reunion Revenge: Howard Alan Treesong does this in The Book of Dreams, with his former classmates.
  • Revenge Before Reason: A recurring theme throughout the series. One of Gersen's girlfriends leaves him when he refuses to end his quest for revenge.
  • Sacrificed Basic Skill for Awesome Training: Kirth has been trained by his grandfather since childhood in fighting, assassination, poisons, weapons, disguise... but his socializing abilities are primarily focused on infiltration rather than regular human interaction.
  • Spider Tank: The "dnzad".
  • Split Personality: Howard Alan Treesong Eerily so. Alice Wroke, who was forced to work for him for a time, said that he was Immir more often than any of the others.
  • The Stoic: Jehan Addels. High-ranked members of the Institute are expected to be this.
  • So What Do We Do Now?: The final lines of The Book of Dreams:

"I have been deserted by my enemies. Treesong is dead. The affair is over. I am done."

  • Sugar and Ice Personality: Alusz Iphigenia.
  • Take a Third Option: Lens Larque, after Gersen has arranged that he can either show up in court or forfeit his ship. He blows it up and collects on the insurance... the policy for which is held by a company owned by Gersen.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: used straight and subverted in one case, where Gersen's opponent was wearing a mail vest and he had to scramble to get his knife back. The second time, he aims for the bare throat.
  • Transplanted Humans: Through colonization of the Oikumene, and to the extent that Human Subspecies exist. Apart from the Star Kings (a race of adaptable aliens to which the first Demon Prince, Attel Malagate, belongs), no other sapient aliens are seen in the entire series.
    • There are hints of extinct sapient races whose extinction predated human arrival on their planet.
  • We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future: Part of the reason the slave trade thrives.
  • Wife Husbandry: Viole Falushe's motivation in The Palace of Love, horribly mixed with Truly Single Parent.
  • Whip It Good: Lens Larque (The Face) has a whip named Panak. A traditional art form on his planet, Dar Sai, is a dance where nude young men are whipped into performing acrobatic maneuvers by an older male.
    • VERY young men - the Darsh culture is essentially one of institutionalised paederasty, bordering on (if not crossing over into) paedophilia.
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Or blue (red, gold, green, etc.) skin — cosmetic dyeing is very fashionable throughout the Oikumene.
  • You Killed My Father: Part of Gersen's motivation as well as Alice Wroke's.
  1. (in a footnote)