Literature: The Demon Princes
A Science Fiction
pentalogy by Jack Vance
, comprising these volumes:
- Star King (1964)
- The Killing Machine (1964)
- The Palace of Love (1967)
- The Face (1979)
- 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 in this series
- Abhorrent Admirer: The Darsh of The Face seem to feel this way about each other, even (or especially) if they're married. One Darsh tradition is a chase for desirable sexual partners on the night of the full moon. Some of the women use younger, cuter (pre-mustache) women as bait. Rape in Darsh society appears to be part of the deal in courtship, and cuts both ways for both genders.
- Aerith and Bob: Names in all five books range from slightly odd-sounding (Kirth Gersen) to fanciful (Kakarsis Asm) to... Myron Patch and Howard Alan Treesong.
- Alliterative Name: such as Silas Sparkhammer, Caril Carphen, and others.
- Aloof Dark-Haired Girl: Jerdian Chanseth.
- All-Powerful Bystander: Gersen muses that the Institute could destroy the Demon Princes if it wanted to. The Triune informs him later that it could easily control all of humanity if it wished, and that the Dexad (its highest council) will often sabotage the lower ranks' efforts at critical moments in order to prevent this from happening. This is probably the reason why, in one of the Footnotes, a senior Institute member is stated as hoping there are no disguised Star Kings among the membership.
- Alternative Calendar: The calendar was recalibrated starting from A.D. 2000.
- Retconned in the post-Apollo books to A.D. 1969, First Man on the Moon.
- Ancient Conspiracy / Ancient Tradition: The Institute, which is officially "just" a society of philosophers. Its (many) detractors consider it to be the former. In some ways, it also resembles an Absurdly Powerful Student Council.
- Amazing Technicolor Population: Skin, hair, and eye color can be altered at will. Notably, in the first book Gersen dates a Green-Skinned Space Babe.
- Badass Grandpa: Kirth Gersen's grandfather, who trains him and is hinted to have had criminal ties in the past.
- Better to Die Than Be Killed: Howard Alan Treesong's other personalities decide this fate for him.
- Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism: The Human Subspecies known as the Darsh have women who are larger and hairier than the men (who are usually hairless after puberty) to the point of often growing Badass Mustaches.
- Celibate Hero: Kirth Gersen, at first.
- Counterfeit Cash: Used in an epic scam in The Killing Machine.
- Cloning Blues: Viole Falushe has spent his entire career cloning the woman he desired, but can't get any of them to desire him.
- Crapsack World: Thamber.
- Dead Guy on Display: Marmelizing is a process mentioned in The Book of Dreams that turns a body into its own memorial statue. It almost becomes Demon Prince Howard Alan Treesong's Fate Worse Than Death when the parents of one boy he killed beat Kirth Gersen to a revenge Best Served Cold.
- Deface of the Moon: Lens Larque's final plan in The Face.
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 (and in Malagate's case, his literal inhumanity - but this latter ability is lampshaded by Gersen in-universe and also in the footnotes).
- 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 Grâce: 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.
- 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.
- Even Mooks Have Loved Ones: In The Star King, Gersen interrogates and kills a man who participated in the Mount Pleasant raid. Said man now has a wife and young son, whom Gersen meets.
- Faster-Than-Light Travel: Called Jarnell intersplit. It's a kind of Warp Drive.
- 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 Sport: Hadaul, in The Face
- Five-Bad Band: the Demon Princes during the Mount Pleasant raid.
- 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.
- Well, you can't really blame Lens Larque for having been warped by upbringing in one of the most repulsive cultures ever imagined.
- Gilded Cage: Interchange in The Killing Machine, a planet whose sole purpose is to house kidnap victims awaiting their ransom.
- Girls with Moustaches: Darsh women, especially as they get older.
- 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.
- Head Desk: Gersen, "a man not given to demonstrations" does this when he realizes he has just been maneuvered into paying Lens Larque a very large sum of money.
- He Cleans Up Nicely: Gersen, whenever he has to disguise himself.
- 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: Gersen, on several occasions. Somewhat mitigated in that many of the people he does it to were trying to kill him at the time.
- 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.
- 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.
- Mugging the Monster:
- 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 titular beheading machine.
- Nightmare Fetishist: Kokor Hekkus.
- 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, or at least the upper echelon. 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 Methlen (The Face), a Planet of Snobs. One of the planets of The Book of Dreams is clearly influenced by the Deep South.
- Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Both Jerdian Chanseth and Jheral Tinzy qualify as this: the former induces Love at First Sight in Kirth Gersen; the latter was locally known as The Vamp, and had Viole Falushe obsessed with her to the point of repeatedly cloning her after she died.
- Ray Gun: Projacs are this.
- Really 700 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Howard Alan Treesong is remembered fondly by his kindergarten teacher.
- Vengeance Feels Empty: The protagonist trains since childhood to avenge his parents deaths and his Doomed Home Town, but after finally taking revenge on all of the titular princes, he realizes he no longer has any purpose in life, and is devastated.
- 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.
- World's Most Beautiful Woman: Alusz Iphigenia is regarded as this.
- 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.