Another adventure/drama set in Vance's inimitable far-future Gaean Reach (Throy, 1993, etc.), encompassing thousands of inhabited planets. During a field trip to planet Camberwell, philosopher Hilyer Fath and his musicologist wife, Althea, rescue a six-year-old boy, Jaro, from a severe beating at the hands of local peasants. So traumatized is the boy by his experiences--including the torture and death of his mother--that the doctors are forced to excise much of his memory. The Faths, with no clue as to Jaro's past, adopt the boy and return to their academic lives on planet Gallingale. Jaro, though occasionally troubled by fleeting memories and instances of what seem to be telepathy, grows up determined to become a spaceman and discover the truth about his origins. He also becomes friendly with Skirlet, an intelligent and vivacious girl from the top of Gallingale's social pyramid who, after numerous weird adventures, plans to become an interstellar detective. Years later, Jam meets Tawn Maihac, a competent, unassuming ex-policeman with his own gruesome experiences to relate; Maihac--Jaro's father!--has been searching without success for the murderer of Jaro's mother. When the Faths are killed in a bizarre mass-murder while attending a conference on yet another planet, Jaro, Skirlet, and Maihac journey into space in search of some answers. And all of the foregoing merely hints at the diverse, expertly arranged plots, vivid scenarios, and splendid characters to be found here. Storyteller Vance is in top form here: the result is uneven in places, perhaps, but always astonishing and enthralling.