This is the first novel in Jack Vance's "Demon Princes" science fiction series.
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Young man Kirth Gersen's goal in life is to track down and destroy the five arch-criminals who, in his childhood, had descended on his settlement and killed or enslaved all he loved, save only his grandfather. The grandfather trained him well for his daunting task, though space is vast and his chances of success small at best.
On Smade's Planet in the lawless Beyond, explorer Lugo Teehalt mistakes Gersen for an agent of his employer, the Star King, one of Gersen's five enemies. Teehalt has found a beautiful, unspoiled world, but after discovering the identity of his employer too late, doesn't want to give him its location. The Star King's henchmen arrive, kill Teehalt and confiscate his starship, or so they think. The ship is a common model, and they have actually taken Gersen's by mistake. Gersen takes possession of Teehalt's ship, and with it the coordinates of the planet.
Gersen traces the ship to a university, and further research narrows the possible hidden identity of the Star King to three men. Or rather two men, for Star Kings are an alien species whose great survival trait is the ability to evolve quickly towards the most successful species they encounter, and that is now Man. The most highly evolved are virtually indistinguishable physically from humans.
Gersen manages to capture Hildemar Dasce, one of the Star King's closest henchmen. He then lures the three individuals who may be the Star King to the planet Teehalt found. By close observation, Gersen believes he knows who the villain is, but to make sure, he allows Dasce to free himself and grab a disabled gun. When Dasce fires at one of the men (for not coming to his rescue), Gersen's guess is confirmed. The Star King escapes, but is killed by a native creature.
Best part of story, including ending:
Vance, as usual, has created a universe that has verisimilitude (the feel of reality).
Best scene in story:
The scene at the end where the Star King meets his fate is at odds with the otherwise idyllic-seeming surroundings.
Opinion about the main character:
Gersen is resourceful and utterly dedicated to his near-impossible mission. Yet, he takes the risk of rescuing a university secretary who helped him.