The Face is the fourth of Vance’s Demon Princes series.  It was first published by DAW Books in 1979, twelve years after the third novel of the series (Vance took a long hiatus from the Demon Princes books before he wrote the final two books).

Please note that spoilers for the book’s plot follow.

Kirth Gersen is tracking the fourth of five criminal masterminds collectively known as the Demon Princes, Lens Larque a.k.a. The Face.  Larque is an ugly outcast missing an ear lobe from Dar Sai, the home of the fierce Darsh people who, among other things, eat vile and repellent foods to remind them of the misery of existence.  Charming folk.  Early on, Gersen cracks Larque’s cover identity and nearly traps him in a courthouse ambush (Gersen has disguised himself as a “hanging judge” trying a lawsuit between the Demon Prince and a front company owned by Gersen), but Larque manages to both escape and receive an insurance settlement from Gersen’s firm.  That must have stung.  Along the way, Gersen encounters a young woman of the Methlen people, who are extremely proud and dislike outsiders.  Gersen is eventually scorned by the maiden and, after he finishes of Lens Larque, manages to gain a measure of revenge against her father.  The plot twists are complex and I don’t want to spoil all of them; needless to say, Gersen and Larque’s schemes and counter-schemes are perhaps more elaborate than those present in previous entries in the series, and certainly add to the fun of the book.

For me, there were two real highlights of the book.  First was Gersen’s need to acquire majority stockholder status of a small firm being used as a front company by Larque.  The first few shares are readily acquired, but Gersen must go to increasingly extreme measures to gather all the shares he needs, and this search truly pushes his cunning, patience, and fortitude to the limits.    The second highlight was Gersen participation in a combat game called hadaul.  It’s a mix of sumo wrestling and street brawl played on a field of concentric circles with a dozen or more combatants.  Very fun stuff indeed.

I did not find Gersen’s erstwhile romantic interest, the haughty Jerdian Chanseth, to be particularly interesting or endearing.  I was just as happy that it didn’t work out between the two.  Likewise, the small bits of characterization of Gersen’s motives and hopes for the future that we have seen in the three previous volumes were not present in The Face.  Having said that, I did enjoy The Face and found it as engaging as the rest of the series, but it lacked some of the charm and quirky characters of the previous books.  I give The Face 4 out of 5 stars.

Review copyright 2010 J. Andrew Byers