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Revenge is Sweeter

Barbarians of the Beyond

By Matthew Hughes 

29 Jul, 2021

Space Opera That Doesn't Suck


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Matthew Hughes’ 2021 Barbarians of the Beyond is an authorized sequel to Jack Vance’s Demon Princes quintet. 

A generation earlier, raiders commanded by the Demon Princes raided Mount Pleasant. The majority of the population was carried off as slaves, leaving only a small number of corpses to prove that the town was ever occupied. 

The raid had consequences for the five Demon Princes, consequences unrolling off-stage. The novel follows events in Mount Pleasant. The raid left a serviceable town empty. A religious community nicknamed Dispers soon installed themselves there. 

Dispers keep themselves to themselves. Thus, the stranger who comes calling is not entirely welcome.

Morwen Sabine’s parents were captured during the raid and sold to Hacheem Belloch. Morwen was born into slavery. Having escaped her cruel master, Morwen is determined to save her parents as well. To do this, she will have to pay Belloch enough money to purchase her parents and compensate him for the insult posed by her escape. Enough money is a lot of money. To acquire it, Morwen will have to return to the town from which her parents were dragged. 

Dispers are a reclusive lot but are not inherently dangerous, as they are soothed by constant indulgence in mild drugs. Their current leader, Jerz Thanda, is another matter. Thanda took control of the cult after the tragic and entirely accidental death of the cult’s founder. Thanda greatly expanded cult’s drug-growing industry, which provides him and the community a steady income. 

Any stranger is suspected of being a narc for the Interworld Police Coordinating Company. Unless Morwen can lull suspicion, she will be tortured to death.

It would seem that Thanda is just evil as Morwen’s former owner, Belloch. But Thanda doesn’t do evil for the lulz; he does it for profit. If you can convince him that you are more useful alive than dead — by possessing the secret location of a vast treasure, say, or by possessing managerial skills his organization sorely lacks — Thanda will not just spare you; he’ll hire you. 

Belloch, on the other hand, nurses his grudges. If Morwen succeeds in paying him off, he may decide to demand more … and more … and more. It’s not so much the money as the pleasure of turning the screw. 


I once surprised Andrew Wheeler by mentioning I’d never read the Demon Princes series. In my defense, the Jack Vance books I tried back in the 1970s are apparently among the worst books he wrote, a bit like deciding to try out an Octavia E. Butler novel and reading Survivor.

Among the many, many, many challenges of trying to write a work in someone else’s continuity: deciding whether to integrate one’s plot into that of existing books (the tack taken in the Lerner/Niven Known Space books, which provide a backstage view of certain events in Known Space) or to create an independent plot (as in J.E. Pournelle’s Outies). Barbarians largely takes the second option, although a significant development in the Demon Princes books becomes public knowledge after Morwen’s plot resolves itself. 

It’s probably best not to expect Vance’s characters (or characters in a Vance-derived series) to hew to a strict moral code. Morwen was raised under hellish circumstances and has learned to do whatever is necessary to keep herself and her loved ones alive. If she has to deal in stolen property, help a drug lord to expand his market, or kill a few of his enemies, she will do that. In her defense, Morwen isn’t some sort of criminal psychopath. She is simply very focused on her goals of freeing her parents and surviving the aftermath.

Readers new to Demon Princes can read this without needing to be familiar with that series. At the same time, I think it is a worthy companion piece to Vance’s series. Vance fans might want to consider this as well. 

Barbarians of the Beyond is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), and here (Barnes & Noble). I did not find it at either Book Depository or Chapters-Indigo.