The novel “The Brave Free Men” by Jack Vance was published for the first time in 1972 serialized in “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction” and in 1973 as a book. It’s the second book in the Durdane trilogy and follows “The Anome“.
Gastel Etzwane gained huge power and intends to use it to eliminate the threat of the Roguskhoi, humanoids who are hitting the Shant harder and harder with their attacks. Together with a very few trusted people, he tries to set up a unified army but unifying the efforts of the many cantons of the Shant is a very complex undertaking.
The people of the Shant spent generations under the rule of the Anome, and even Roguskhoi attacks elicit limited responses. Creating an army and new weapons takes time and adequate organization, and Gastel Etzwane discovers that various cantons hide serious injustices.
“The Brave Free Men” begins where “The Anome” ended, so you must read the first book to understand the setting and the protagonists. The events of the first book led to the situation existing at the beginning of this sequel with the protagonist Gastel Etzwane ready to carry out his plans. This novel especially tells about the difficulties he encounters at every step.
The Durdane trilogy is a product of the imagination of Jack Vance, who created one of his planets famous for societies with peculiar and sometimes colorful customs. The Shant is made up of a lot of cantons where there are very different laws and customs, and that’s one of the problems for Gastel Etzwane. The author used this trilogy to also include various social and political considerations related to the situation in the Shant.
The Anome has been a central authority for generations but hasn’t interfered with the local laws of the cantons. Most Shant residents have never traveled outside the canton in which they were born, a situation also due to the difficulties of complying with very different laws every time a traveler crosses a border between cantons. That contributed to creating static micro-societies in which local authorities had the possibility to impose laws that generated distortions and consequent injustices.
Gastel Etzwane really wants to use the great power he has to help the people of the Shant but has to face practical, bureaucratic, and other types of problems. Durdane is a metal-poor world where the torc system stopped warfare but this makes it difficult to develop adequate weapons to fight the Roguskhoi. Great divisions among the cantons of the Shant, with petty local interests and coordination problems, increase the difficulties in setting up an army. For this reason, “The Brave Free Men” is more about these issues than the actual war against the Roguskhoi.
“The Brave Free Men” is short by today’s standards just like the first book, so the pace is fast even in the parts where the action is limited thanks to various twists and turns. The final part of the novel deals with the origins of the Roguskhoi with revelations that are used by Jack Vance to lay the foundation for the last book of the Durdane trilogy. For this reason, if you want to know how the story ends, you have to read the whole trilogy and in my opinion, it’s worth it.