This is Vance at his classic best. The dastardly Cugel once again must fight his way back across the Dying Earth, over hostile regions, past weird and unnatural creatures, and, worst of all, through the endless shades of human culture and habit. Vance is at his literary best, with beautiful, original language sketching characters and actions from base to idealistic, with the would-be urbane Cugel taking it all in stride. Yet, however he schemes, whomever he cheats, he always seems to come off worst. What’s a bombastic rogue to do?
Work mostly – through situations bizarre and farcical, abd usually of his own making. This book is one of the treasures of fantastic writing, and one of the best parts of the Dying Earth sequence. It’s far more entertaining than Mazirian and his stuffy magicians, and just as caring as “Guyal of Sfere”, if in an unusual, off-kilter way.
Structurally, the story is simple – Cugel gets in trouble, gets out of trouble, gets in trouble again. And there are a couple of places where an edit would have made for a smoother transition between chapters. But those are minor caveats in what is simply one of SFF’s great masterpieces.
If you haven’t read Vance before, this is a great place to start, though the story truly starts in the predecessor volume Cugel the Clever, which is just as much fun. If you have read Vance, and you somehow haven’t read this book, buy it right now! In fact, whoever you are, buy this now. Even if you somehow manage to hate it, it’s a classic. And most of you will like it a lot.