Time for The Killing Machine, number two in Jack Vance’s Demon Princes series. The gallant hero in this space-fantasy saga is Kirth Gersen, a man whose life is devoted to track down and kill the five Demon Princes responsible for the annihilation of his home planet.
In the previous book, Gersen successfully found and killed Malagate the Woe, but is now without any leads to the whereabouts of the other four alien, but humanoid Demon Princes. To have something to do other than loitering around in space harbors, Gersen accepts an offer to serve as weasel in the Beyond and track down a traitor of the Oikumene. This mission by coincidence leads him to a trail of Kokor Hekkus, the notoriously cruel Demon Prince known for his extravagant pleasures in combining machines in the torturing and killing of people.
But Kokor Hekkus is not an easy man to find, as there is no information about either his looks or his home. Gersen gets a little bit closer by investigating the kidnappings of a large range of wealthy citizens. By following the money, he finds clues about Kokor’s home planet – Thamber. However, Thamber is a lost planet, known only in childhood stories and poems.
Set a course from the old Dog Star
A point to the north of Achernar;
Sleight your ship to the verge extreme
And dead ahead shines Thamber’s gleam.
Gersen’s ticket to Thamber involves the construction of a giant killing machine in the form of centipede – commissioned by Kokor Hekkus – and the help of Alusz Iphigenia, an original inhabitant of Thamber that Gersen releases from the debtors of Interchange. Once on Thamber, it remains to Gersen to find and kill Kokor – in a forgotten world full of beasts and angry people.
Jack Vance likes his heroes and provide them with both mental and physical skills, including surprisingly good proves of martial arts. Kirth Gersen is no objection to this pattern, but in this second book we get to experience some levels of doubts in the main character, which I find refreshing. Otherwise, Vance writes a fantastic flowing prose, with colorful and imaginative worlds and creatures. I am saving the last three books on the shelf until the autumn, so that I have something to look forward to. Kind of when you put a good vintage wine in the cellar for a special occasion.
On a final note: for once I seem to have procured a first edition – and with a cover of Richard Powers. I am pleased.