The novel “The Anome”, also known as “The Faceless Man” by Jack Vance was published for the first time in 1971 serialized in “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction” and in 1973 as a book.
Mur is only a young boy when he begins the purification rites of the Chilite sect in which he grew up. His aspiration is to become a musician like his biological father, whom he has never known, but his soul-father Osso Higajou has other plans for him. Deeply dissatisfied with his mother being indentured to his soul-father and the strict discipline imposed on the members of the sect, Mur runs away and takes the name Gastel Etzwane.
Gastel Etzwane’s plan is to appeal to the Anome, also known as the Faceless Man, the mysterious man who is in control of the torcs, the explosive collars worn by the citizens of Shant state. Gastel wants to have his mother’s indenture contract voided but the appeal procedure is expensive and the boy has to go through various ups and downs.
The first book of the trilogy set on the world of Durdane tells the life of Gastel Etzwane in his growing years. It’s not exactly a coming-of-age story even if the novel is centered on the protagonist covering above all the years of his growth. In the first part, there are leaps forward in time, so we see only some phases of that growth that are significant in Gastel’s plans.
The novel contains various elements typical of Jack Vance’s works. It’s set on the world of Durdane, colonized long ago by humans, who now consider the Earth as a mythical place. The state of Shant is divided into many cantons and each has its own, often bizarre, laws and customs. Gastel Etzwane was born and raised in a canton ruled by an ascetic and misogynistic religious cult and his mother works for the cult leader.
When Gastel decides to run away from that cult and to ask the Anome for his mother’s freedom, for him, it’s only the beginning of a series of adventures. His plan becomes more complex as his native village is threatened by the Rhugoshoi, a non-human race living on Durdane.
In a novel that is short by today’s standards, Jack Vance tells a story that becomes complex thanks to the intertwining of events at a fast pace. Gastel meets people who have various kinds of influence on him and the appeal to the Anome is far from a simple procedure. The protagonist’s story is developed between surprises and twists that help to keep the reader’s attention always alive.
The plot is very adventurous, as can be expected from a work by Jack Vance, but “The Anome” also offers a negative view of certain authoritarian rulers who only think about controlling their people but not about their well-being. The leader of the Chilite sect Osso Higajou thinks only of the sect rituals while the Faceless Man, who can kill anyone by detonating their torc, seems totally uninterested in the Rhugoshoi threat.
“The Anome” is the first novel of a trilogy but it has its own end, so you can read it as an independent work and then decide if you want to continue with its sequels. In my opinion, it’s a great example of Jack Vance’s fantasy, so I recommend reading it.