The Gray Prince

by Jack Vance
Reviewed date: 2011 Mar 31
Rating: 3
160 pages
cover art
cover art

On Koryphon, land-barons rule the continent of Uaia. The native Uldra tribes move as freely as before, but under the aegis and protection of the land-barons. A semi-intelligent local species, the Erjins, are domesticated and trained as pack animals; they are also sent as household servants to the flourishing urban society on the southern continent, Szintarre. The continent of Szintarre has its own semi-intelligent native species, the vicious Morphotes. The Morphotes are confined to the swamps; strong fences keep them at bay. Into this mix, enter the Gray Prince. He threatens the status quo by uniting the Uldra to drive out the land-barons from Uaia.

The story begins by following Schaine Madduc as she returns to Koryphon after five years studying abroad. Upon arriving, she is introduced to the Gray Prince, who turns out to be Muffin, an Uldra orphan who was raised with her at Morningswake, the Madduc family domain. Before she even makes it home to her Morningswake domain in Uaia, her father is killed by Uldra raiders. Her brother Kelse assumes his father's position as land-baron.

Then, curiously, the story drops Schaine and follows Kelse, his friend Gerd Jemasze, and Elvo Glissam on a fact-finding journey into the Uaian hinterlands. The party discovers an ancient monument to an extinct Uaian civilization. It turns out that the Erjins are not a native, semi-intelligent race. Rather, they were a space-faring civilization who invaded Koryphon and subjugated the Morphotes (who themselves were an advanced civilization) before falling victim to a later invasion by humans. The Erjins, who have been biding their time for thousands of years, rise up in rebellion and attempt to conquer humanity on Koryphon.

The land-barons put down the Erjin insurrection in a matter of weeks. The Gray Prince continue to agitate for Uldra takeover of the land-baron's domains, but he lacks the political support to advance his cause. And at this point, it's revealed that the Gray Prince was never in it for noble causes. He was in it for revenge against the Madduc family, who had never treated him as an equal. When Schaine rejects his final advances, the Gray Prince leaves Koryphon to seek a new life elsewhere.

I enjoyed the book, but it's so curious that Vance shifts points of view midway through the story. Moreover, he withholds critical information from the reader. Apparently everyone knew that Schaine and Muffin had an affair--which is why Schaine's father sent her off-planet to study--but Vance withholds that information until the final pages of the book.

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