The Face (Vance novel)

The Face is a science fiction novel by American writer Jack Vance, the fourth novel (1979) in the "Demon Princes" series. It was published nearly twelve years after the third.

The Face
First English language edition cover
AuthorJack Vance
Original titleLens Larque
Cover artistGino D'Achille
CountryUnited States
SeriesDemon Princes
GenreScience fiction
PublisherDAW Books
Publication date
Media typePrint (Paperback)
Preceded byThe Palace of Love 
Followed byThe Book of Dreams 

Plot summary

Kirth Gersen tracks Lens Larque across several worlds, most notably Aloysius, the desert world Dar Sai and the more temperate Methel. He eventually learns that Larque is a Darsh, born Husse Bugold. He had been deprived of an earlobe and made a rachepol or outcast from his clan for a crime considered "repulsive but not superlatively heinous." He took the name Lens Larque, after the lanslarke, an indigenous creature and the fetish of the Bugold clan. (It was this slim clue that enabled Gersen to track him down.) He then became a notorious criminal renowned for his magnificent, if often grotesque and horrifying, jests.

Gersen encounters Larque at a Darsh restaurant on Aloysius, but only manages to cut off his remaining earlobe. Gersen had arranged to impound one of Larque's spaceships, in order to lure him in from the lawless Beyond. In an ironic twist, Larque escapes Gersen's courtroom ambush, blows up the ship, and collects insurance money - from a company owned by Gersen.

Gersen then proceeds to Dar Sai. The harsh planet is home to the "fierce and perverse" Darsh, who mine black sand, stable transuranic elements of atomic number 120 or greater. The inhabitants have odd mating customs; when the moon is full, men and women chase each other on the desert. Young women are used as bait to lure men into the clutches of ugly, older women.

Gersen determines that Larque is connected somehow with a seemingly worthless Dar Sai company called Kotzash Mutual. He begins buying up its shares in an attempt to gain control, but falls short of what he needs, until shares are put up as a prize for a hadaul match. Hadaul is essentially a free-for-all brawl within a series of concentric rings. Gersen, by dint of skill and cleverness, wins the match and gains control of the company. He also rescues Jerdian Chanseth, a young aristocratic Methlen woman, when her sightseeing party is waylaid by Darsh during their mating activities. A brief romance blossoms between them.

Gersen then follows Larque to Methel. The wealthier Methlens reside in large manors with which they closely identify. Gersen attempts to renew his relationship with Jerdian, going so far as to buy the mansion next to her family's. But being a disreputable (if extremely rich) space vagabond and decidedly not Methlen, he is rejected as a suitor by her father, bank owner Adario Chanseth, who uses the law to nullify the sale of the house. It turns out that Larque himself had tried to buy the same estate, but had also been thwarted by the same Methlen law, because Chanseth didn't want to see his "great Darsh face hanging over my garden wall."

Eventually, Gersen learns that Lens Larque and Kotzash Mutual have been mining Shanitra, the small moon of Methlen, for some mysterious reason. It was well known that Shanitra bore no useful deposits of ore and was practically worthless. Nonetheless, Kotzash had gone to great pains to place extensive explosive charges all across its surface.

Gersen finally tracks Larque down and kills him with cluthe, a paralyzing poison. In his final moments of life, the Darsh begs Gersen to press a button, but Gersen denies him his last request. However, Gersen has divined Larque's last and most grandiose jest, and having exactly the same motivation, he presses the button after the Demon Prince has died. Shanitra is racked by explosions and takes on a new shape, the face of Lens Larque, expression frozen in a leering grin. Gersen then calls Adario Chanseth and dryly informs him there is a "great Darsh face hanging over your garden wall."


Hadaul is a fictional game played by the Darsh. The contestants or "roblers" (typically a maximum of twelve and a minimum of four) pay an entry fee that becomes part of the prize money. The prize is placed on a pedestal in an inner maroon circle, four to eight feet in diameter. Surrounding it are three concentric circles, each ten feet wide, colored (from innermost outward) yellow, green and blue. The players begin in the yellow circle, as "yellow roblers".

The object of the game is to eject the other roblers by any means from the playing field. A robler who is thrown out of the yellow circle can no longer return to it. The same applies to the green ring, while a player tossed out of the blue is eliminated from the game. There are few if any rules. Players can ally with each other or equally easily betray one another.

It is possible for a hadaul to end with a single robler in each of the three circles, in which case the prize is split up in the ratio 3-2-1. However, a yellow robler can choose to enter either of the other two rings without penalty and try to eliminate another player in order to increase his share of the winnings, though he risks being thrown out himself. Similarly, a green robler can try to eliminate a blue robler. The players declare when the game is over.

However, a green or blue robler can then wager the amount of the yellow robler's prize and re-enter the yellow ring to start the game anew. A challenger can put up an amount equal to the prize, but the winner need not accept, depending on the local rules in effect. If the challenger pays double the amount, the previous winner can no longer decline, unless he has been incapacitated. The challenge match is often fought with "knives, staves, or, on occasion, whips," but even a friendly hadaul can result in a corpse.


Greg Costikyan reviewed The Face in Ares Magazine #1.[1] Costikyan commented that "All in all, The Face is an intriguing and well-plotted adventure in Vance's usual strange style. It is also considerably more expert and cleanly written than most of Vance's other work; apparently, Vance is still refining his style and sharpening his abilities. The Face is well worth reading, especially if you can get hold of the previous three novels in the 'Demon Princess' series."[1]

Dar Sai

Dar Sai
'Demon Princes' location
First appearanceThe Face (1979 (1979))
Created byJack Vance
TypeDesert planet
Moon(s)1 (Mirrasou)

Dar Sai is a fictional planet referenced in author Jack Vance's fourth "Demon Princes" novel, The Face. It is a desert planet orbiting the fictional star Cora, with a single large natural satellite called Mirrasou.


Dar Sai is home to a race of humans known as Darsh, who take stubborn pride in their ability to endure their planet's inhospitable climate. They reside under enormous communal umbrellas called "shades" in order to escape the planet's murderous heat and glare, which would otherwise prove fatal in short order. When they have to leave the protection of the shades, they carry portable air conditioners. Darsh men are typically brave and tough - a writer asserts that "there are no Darsh cowards" - with plenty of public swagger, a quality called plambosh.

Food and drink

The food of Dar Sai is strongly spiced in order to make plain water seem more appealing by contrast; off-worlders generally find the taste and smell of such food revolting. Darsh who leave Dar Sai often face prejudice due to this smell, and their residences are sometimes restricted to certain neighborhoods (a characteristic they share with the Sanduskers, as mentioned in The Killing Machine). Dishes include pourrian, chatowsies and ahagaree. Darsh beer has been described as tasting as though a dog has been washed in it. At one hotel a variety of local cuisine, made more palatable to offworlders is served along with a variety of more palatable beverages.

Sex and relationships

Marriages are based on financial interests, not mutual affection. A man will judge a prospective wife on her domestic skills, while a woman will judge the man's earning potential. They often exchange disparaging remarks, and typically do not engage in sexual relations with each other, preferring to seek (often unwilling) sexual partners out on the desert sands at night under the full moon. Any party venturing into this area at that time is considered fair game (including unwary tourists). Older males seek younger females, known as kitchets, in their brief period of attractiveness before they typically grow unattractive moustaches and gain weight. Older females (vulgarly known as khoontzes), in turn, lie in wait, compelling kitchets to act as lures for unwary young males. They are typically well able to overpower these youths, which the men ruefully acknowledge in ribald songs.

Entertainment and culture

One of the primary entertainments of adult men is a kind of whip-dance in which a man with a whip puts a troupe of half-naked boys through a series of japes and stunts, typically striking paper targets affixed to the boys' buttocks. In Darsh taverns a form of juke box projecting holographs of these entertainments is available for customers.

A popular sport is hadaul, a kind of mass wrestling match with few rules, in which the objective is to be the last contestant in a playing field of three concentric rings. A competitor who has been removed from one of the inner rings may not re-enter it; one who has been forced out the outermost is eliminated from play. After the competition is concluded, a loser may challenge the victor to a duel if he is willing to put forward a stake equal to the winner's share of the purse. It is rare for off-worlders (iskish) to compete, and Kirth Gersen is the first known to have won.


Dar Sai is rich in "duodecimates", fictional stable transuranic elements with atomic numbers in the 120s. These are commonly found as "black sand" in the desert, and prospecting is a major part of the planet's industry. Weighed quantities of duodecimates are an accepted medium of exchange, as are Standard Value Units, the common currency of the Oikumene.


  1. Costikyan, Greg (March 1980). "Books". Ares Magazine. Simulations Publications, Inc. (1): 35-36.


  • Jaffery, Sheldon (1987). Future and Fantastic Worlds: A Bibliographic Retrospective of DAW Books (1972-1987). Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House, Inc. p. 125. ISBN 1-55742-002-5.
  • Underwood, Tim; Chuck Miller (1980). Jack Vance. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company. p. 228. ISBN 0-8008-4295-2.
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