After his encounter with the powerful alien Tormyle in the last book, Dumarest is now somewhere back near the center of the galaxy on the planet Ourelle. It's a balkanized planet, split between various ethnic populations. After selling some crystals he mined on a nearby world, he happens across some thugs trying to kidnap a young boy, Jondelle. He prevents the crime, but is severly wounded by a laser in the process. He given care by the child's mother, Makgar, who acts as a doctor to the native Hegelts who act as peons on the farm she and her husband, Elray, own. Jondelle idolizes Dumarest, who shows him some knife fighting tricks. This outrages Elray, who doesn't want the boy raised to be a killer. Dumarest tells him off, say the boy must learn to stand up for himself. Makgar agrees, saying, "I want Jondelle to be strong." She's fallen for Dumarest and offers to leave her husband for him. While they're off talking together the farm is attacked by a raiding party of Melevganians, a nation of literally insane people from the lands beyond the deserts to the south. As Dumarest and Makgar hurry back to save Jondrelle, she takes time out to curse Elray for his non-violent ways. "The damn coward! If he lives through this, I'll tear out his throat!" Despite Dumarest's best efforts a few of the raiders escape with the boy. The farm has been destroyed and Elray killed. Makgar, who had been badly wounded, is glad he's dead. Dumarest promises the dying woman that he'll rescue her son, a promise that take him into the insane Melevganians' capitol, where he finds an unexpected ally.
This story is basically a Western yarn transposed into a space opera setting. The same basic story cam be found in films like The Searchers (1956). As such it's a glorification of the myth of the rugged individual as embodied by Dumarest. It's a tough universe and only tough guys like him are equipped to handle it. But this celebration of machismo has it's dark side, and twice in this novel Dumarest slaps women in the face.
This illustrates in a very shocking and graphic way the sadomasochism that underlies these stories as well as so much of popular fiction. It's a subject the late Philip José Farmer explored in his classic book, A Feast Unknown (1969). Whether or not Dumarest continues to behave with such brutality will be revealed as he continues his search for Earth.