Kat Hooper's Reviews > Cugel's Saga

Cugel's Saga by Jack Vance
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Aug 27, 14

bookshelves: audiobook, favorites
Read in June, 2010

ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

Cugel “the clever” is one of the scummiest, nastiest, lowliest rogues in all of fantasy literature. He’s got no morals and no respect for women, he’s often a coward, he’s not good looking, nor is he particularly good with a sword. In the words of one of Cugel’s acquaintances, “who could imagine such protean depravity?” The answer, apparently, is Jack Vance. And that's why Cugel is one of my favorite “heroes” — because he belongs to Jack Vance.

Cugel’s Saga, book 3 of The Dying Earth and the direct sequel to The Eyes of the Overworld, begins ironically — with Cugel again fallen afoul of Iucounu, the Laughing Magician, who has now banished Cugel across the dying earth to exactly the same place he had sent Cugel before and from which Cugel had just returned to seek his revenge. Thus, Cugel begins another long journey back to Almery to get even with Iucounu, and of course it’s another series of hilarious misadventures. These usually involve Cugel entering a village, pretending to be a gentleman and getting involved in some profitable scheme, and eventually having to flee or being run out of town.

During each of these episodes, Jack Vance uses his characteristic humor to highlight absurd human behavior. For example, in chapter 3, after penniless Cugel has just narrowly escaped a man whose ship, wife, and daughters he kidnapped, he happens upon a town in which the men spend their days sunning themselves atop columns of stone while their wives work to pay Nisbet the quarryman to add additional stones to their husbands’ towers, thus elevating them, both literally and figuratively, above the other townsmen. Cugel, noticing how eager the women are to please Nisbet, sees this as an opportunity not only for monetary gain, but also perhaps to score benefits that Nisbet may not have imagined… Yes, Cugel is a scoundrel, but it’s hard to think too badly of him when most of the people he encounters are equally corrupt. Cugel himself explains it this way:

I am not one to crouch passively with my hindquarters raised awaiting either the kick or the caress of Destiny! I am Cugel! Fearless and indomitable!

Cugel’s various adventures do not become predictable and they never get stale — each is unique, fresh, and delightfully funny. Besides the sheer entertainment value, Jack Vance’s voice is consistently a pleasure to read. Nobody writes just like Vance and I never tire of it.

I listened to Brilliance Audio’s version of Cugel’s Saga, which was read by Arthur Morey, who has narrated their other Vance titles. He is excellent as usual — one of the finest audiobook readers I’ve ever listened to. He and Jack Vance have entertained me for many an hour as I commute back and forth to work. I’ll bet my colleagues wonder why I’m always chuckling wickedly when I pull into the parking lot.
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