The Palace of Love is the third of Vance’s Demon Princes series. It was first published by Berkley Books in 1967, three years after Berkley published the first two books of the series.
Please note that spoilers for the book’s plot follow.
The novel begins with Kirth Gersen spending time with Alusz Iphigenia Eperje-Tokay, the woman he rescued in The Killing Machine. Alusz cannot understand Gersen’s quest for vengeance and so the two part. Alas. It was not meant to be. (I still don’t find Alusz nearly as entertaining a love interest as the ill-fated Pallis Atwrode from The Star King.)
In his effort to track down Viole Falushe, third of the Demon Princes, Gersen follows a lead to Sarkoy, a world mentioned previously in the series where its inhabitants have made poison a way of life. There, Gersen learns something of Falushe’s past: he was born Vogel Filschner on Earth. Filschner was a vile creature even as a teen, and he kidnapped and sold into slavery an entire choral group of girls in a fruitless quest to possess the object of his affections, a girl named Jheral Tinzy. Unfortunately for the budding young psychopath, Tinzy didn’t attend choir practice the day of the kidnapping.
Gersen travels to Falushe’s hometown on Earth, since the criminal mastermind is still rumored to occasionally reappear here (regrettably we don’t see any of the quaint, bizarre customs for which Vance is famous in his descriptions of Europe in 3500 AD; I view this as a missed opportunity). It is here that Gersen makes the acquaintance of the mad poet Navarth, who maintains occasional contact with Faluche. In Navarth’s care is a young girl of unclear antecedents who resembles Jheral Tinzy to an uncanny degree. Gersen’s investigation on Earth and elsewhere is interesting, as are the financial arrangements he makes to invest and utilize his ill-gotten gains from the last novel. Gersen also prepares a cover story for himself as a journalist for a magazine he purchases outright. Such are the options when one has billions to spend in vigilantism!
After a series of botched attempts to encounter Faluche (once again, his precise identity is unclear), Gersen finally arranges to travel as a guest to Faluche’s Palace of Love on a distant world. There, Gersen finds an entire society that had dedicated itself to serving the criminal overlord. He also discovers that the fiend has created a series of clones of his childhood obsession (the original having committed suicide many years previously) in an attempt to find one version of Jheral Tinzy who will love him. Truly a perverse, tragic figure. And one that, of course, Gersen ends up killing in the end.
I didn’t find the second half of The Palace of Love to be particularly engaging; it meandered a bit and I was, to be honest, bored in parts. I also found many of the epigraphs to be especially (and unnecessarily) bizarre. Gersen’s characterization, never particularly strong in the series, is limited in this middle work of the series. I found this to be the weakest of the first three Demon Princes novels, though I certainly don’t think it’s bad by any means, and it does include some delightful moments. I give The Palace of Love 3 out of 5 stars.
Review copyright 2010 J. Andrew Byers