The Faceless Man

by Jack Vance
Series: Durdane 1
Reviewed date: 2005 Dec 29
Rating: 3
224 pages
Also entitled The Anome
cover art
cover art

"Man enters the world through the genital portal: an original taint which by cleansings and attitudes the Chilite casts aside, like a serpent molting a skin, but which ordinary men carry like a stinking incubus all the way to their graves."

Gastel Etzwane lives as a Chilite in the canton of Bastern on the planet Durdane. The laws of Bastern are strict: men must become purified of woman-taint through ascetic rituals, and women remain unclean second-class citizens for their whole lives. Gastel rebels when he sees the virtual slavery his mother endures; he runs away from Bastern.

Gastel can get no one to help his mother, though. The planet Durdane is ruled by an unknown Faceless Man who enforces the law through explosive torcs fastened to the necks of every man on the planet. The Faceless Man grants the cantons a great deal of autonomy, and is unwilling to overrule the laws of Bastern which hold Gastel's mother in wage slavery.

Gastel can get no help from the Faceless Man, but he does find an ally in a strange old man named Ifness, who turns out to be an undercover historian from Earth. Gastel and Ifness determine to discover the identity of the Faceless Man and force him to take a more active role in combatting injustice and to protect the people of Durdane.

Most of the novel is interesting, but the ending is a let-down. Rather than have a real denouement, Jack Vance just wraps up the action as quickly as possible. Ifness is called away to return to Earth, and Gastel locates the Faceless Man, who promises to do better and help the people of Durdane. Despite the abrupt ending, the unique culture of Durdane makes The Faceless Man an interesting book.

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