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Kirth Gersen is the protagonist of the five Demon Princes novels by Jack Vance, set approximately 1500 years in the future. When he was a boy, he and his grandfather were the only members of a peaceful and harmless space colony to escape a massacre and slave raid (the "Mount Pleasant Massacre") perpetrated by pirates led by five master criminals known as the "Demon Princes." The grandfather devotes the rest of his life to training the young Gersen—on Earth, Alphanor and other central planets of the Oikumene—to be the avenger who will track down and summarily execute the Demon Princes.
Appearance and demeanour
Gersen is about 34 at the beginning of Star King, the first book in the series. He is an expert in numerous fighting techniques, including bare-handed combat, knife-fighting, and the exotic poisoning techniques practiced by the Sarkoy. He is also intelligent and patient, capable of a good deal of deductive work, and possessed of ample courage, given that his life's quest must necessarily bring him into opposition with five of the inhabited galaxy's most dangerous and unscrupulous criminals, all of whom possess vast resources (in the case of Viole Falushe, a planet of his own).
Wealth and resources
At the beginning of his quest, Gersen owns a small spaceship, and otherwise possesses little wealth, though enough to go extremely well armed when circumstances both demand and permit it, and enough to further his detective work with occasional minor purchases and bribes. During the events described in The Killing Machine, however, Gersen gains fabulous wealth (10 billion SVU in cash) by running a scam on Kokor Hekkus, a Demon Prince who is holding him for ransom, and on Interchange, the institution that facilities the ransoming of kidnap victims. However, he is not given to conspicuous consumption and, barring expenditure on a succession of new and more luxurious spacecraft, he uses his money mostly to further his work. He acquires at least one bank and a magazine with galaxy-wide circulation, the latter allowing him to assume the identity of a reporter from time to time.
Given his unusual circumstances, it would not be unreasonable to expect Gersen to be a borderline sociopath. Instead, he is as much concerned with the welfare of his fellow man as an average man might be, and not one who had spent fifteen years or more in training to become an assassin. He displays chivalry upon occasion, inconveniencing himself, sustaining injury or putting himself in harm's way to rescue women who are in need.
A common view is that he is a normal man who has had a path in life forced upon him. The true villains of the series are the five Demon Princes and, also perhaps his grandfather, who molded him into a killing machine to exact his revenge. However, the redemptive piece is that Kirth's humanity prevails - at the end of his quest, he has at least a chance of living a 'normal life'.
During the course of the novels, he experiences a series of romantic interludes of gradually increasing intensity. In Star King, he dates a young clerk, Pallis Atwrode, whom he must later rescue. In The Killing Machine, he encounters Alusz Iphigenia Eperje-Tokay, and seems to be growing involved with her; but early in the following book, The Palace of Love, the pair split up, chiefly because Alusz Iphigenia cannot understand his cold and singleminded pursuit of vengeance, especially since the now-wealthy Gersen could subcontract his dangerous and horrifying life's work. At the end, she even starts to fear him a little. It is unclear whether this relationship was ever consummated.
His quest for Viole Falushe brings him into association with Drusilla Wayles, a parthenogenetic daughter of Jheral Tinzy, Viole Falushe's lifelong obsession, from whom he later parts rather than repeat the unhappy ending of his relationship with Alusz Iphigenia. At the end of the book, he meets another, slightly older, Drusilla, and the acquaintance appears mutually delightful. However, there is no sign of her by the time of the events chronicled in The Face.
During this fourth quest, he meets yet another young woman, Jerdian Chanseth, only to lose her too, owing to the snobbish exclusivity of her father and homeworld. Finally, he has the aid and companionship of Alice Wroke in The Book of Dreams. As the saga closes with all his enemies brought to harsh justice at his hands, Gersen faces the difficult transition from monomaniacal assassin to ordinary citizen.
Gersen has one long-term associate. Having come into possession of an enormous fortune via a swindle perpetrated in the lawless Beyond (see above), Gersen needs to invest the money. To this end, he engages a financial advisor named Jehan Addels, whom he promises a large salary with regular increments and the interesting challenge of investing an enormous amount of money that would bankrupt many a government. He chooses Addels on the basis of his reputation for competence and honesty, wanting neither to destabilise any economies, nor to see his vast wealth embezzled; and especially not to compromise his own anonymity by sending ripples through the financial world.
Addels takes on the work and delivers sterling service, and also furthers Gersen's detective work from time to time, occasionally at some risk to his own person. For the most part, he suspends judgment as to Gersen's life's work, which he chooses not to enquire into too closely; but given that at one point he becomes directly involved in the plot to hunt down Lens Larque, it may be supposed that he has some idea what Gersen is about, and approves.
- Using 1964 as the base year for US$ inflation this is 76.6 billion SVU in current (2014) prices