Dumarest's promise to a dying comrade, Lemain, that he will deliver a message to the man's father takes him to Loame, an agrarian planet with a society like that of the ancient Roman latifundia. The planet is under siege by an invasive plant species, the thorge. Making things worse is the tribute they must pay to the expansionist planet, Technos, a meritocracy where an individual's social standing is determined by the number of degrees they hold. This tribute takes the form of a thousand young men and women every year. When Dumarest learns that Elaine Delmayer, the daughter of a deceased antiquarian, is now living on Technos, he contrives to have himself included in the upcoming tribute in order to gain access to that planet, which strictly regulates immigration. The planet is ruled by a Supreme Council, the chairman of which is Leon Vargas, the Technarch. Advised by the insidious cyber Ruen he hopes to exploit the current state of war to abolish the council and establish himself as absolute dictator, if his increasing paranoia doesn't overcome him first. Only determined council members like Mada Grist stand in his way. Dumarest will need all his skill to find Elaine Delmayer in this repressive and tightly regulated society and find another clue to lead him to Earth.
This book marks the first time a woman isn't killed after having sex with Dumarest, which is a welcome change of pace. It also sees the return of capable, independent women in the characters Elaine Delmayer and Mada Grist. The latter finds Dumarest sexually irresistible, which is justified in the context of the story, but it is also typical of the series. These books are mainly a male power fantasy, with Dumarest acting as a surrogate for the reader.
This book also highlights the Nietzschean aspects of the series, with the Apollonian regulated and intellectually oriented society of Technos becoming dysfunctional and only the energetic Dumarest and his inherent Dionysian instincts that can save it.
It also raises the question of Dumarest's motivation, but like the previous books it doesn't provide a satisfactory answer. When Odysseus undertook his voyage home after the fall of Troy, he did so to bring his troops home, and to return to his wife and son as well as his vast estate. Dumarest has no such direct ties to Earth, which is just his vaguely remembered childhood home. It's hard to believe he would risk imprisonment and death just to get meager scraps of information about it's location. But whatever his reasons his odyssey continues.