Servants of the Wankh is the second of four science fiction novels in Jack Vance's Tschai: Planet of Adventure series.
Adam Reith faces the daunting mission of returning to Earth, 212 light years away, after the rest of his crew and their spaceship are blown up by parties unknown. Tschai is home to no less than five sentient, mutually hostile species: the native Pnume, three previously unknown spacefaring races, and human beings.
After having survived an encounter with the alien Chasch and rescuing kidnap victim Ylin-Ylan from a sect, Reith and his two companions escort Ylin-Ylan to Cath, her relatively advanced homeland, where Reith hopes to build a spaceship. Along the way, Reith and Ylin-Ylan become lovers, but the closer they get to their destination, the cooler she becomes. Reith's friend Anacho explains that Cath is a complex society; unfamiliar with the numerous intricate conventions, they will undoubtedly embarrass Ylin-Ylan. When her attempts to rid herself of her escort fails, she first runs amok, then commits suicide, a common practice among her people when faced with unbearable shame.
With no better option, the trio continue on to Cath. An aide to Ylin-Ylan's father grudgingly gives them a reward for their news. Reith discovers that Cath was the source of the mysterious signal that brought his ill-fated crew to investigate.
Reith finds Cath's engineering to be rather slipshod, so he uses the money to recruit a human crew to try to steal a spaceship from the amphibious Wankh instead. The Wankh have extreme difficulty communicating with other species, so they employ highly trained human Wankhmen to translate for them. The attempt fails because, by bad luck, they steal a ship undergoing repairs.
Before the Wankhmen can summarily execute the hijackers however, Reith is able to inform a curious high-ranking Wankh (one of the ship's passengers) of his surmises: The Wankhmen have been deceiving their masters into believing one of the other species is still actively hostile to them in order to maintain their cushy position as intermediaries. They went so far as to destroy Reith's ship for the same reason. The Wankh believes him; Reith and his men are released, and the Wankhmen are all expelled from the Wankh cities.
Best part of story, including ending:
This is perhaps the weakest of the four novels in the series because the Wankh play only a small part in the plot. The reader learns very little of Wankh nature and society.
Best scene in story:
When Reith negotiates for a crew, he has to deal with Zarfo Detwiler, a unabashed member of a highly avaricious human subculture. He's amusingly greedy.
Opinion about the main character:
Reith is resourceful, determined to warn Earth about three possible threats in the form of the alien spacefaring species, and undaunted by failure.