William's Reviews > The Eyes of the Overworld

The Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance
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's review
Jun 30, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: reviewed

** spoiler alert **
* Summary

Cugel "The Clever" a rogue somewhat in the spirit of Frasier's Flashman, runs afoul of Iuconnu "The Laughing Magician." Iuconnu sends Cugel on an errand to a faraway land, magically conveying him there, but leaving Cugel to return, the hard way, compelled by Iuconnu's parasitic servant, Frix.

Cugel's adventures on the way back, lead him from through danger and treachery and every manner of wonder and terror of Vance's imagination. It's pretty much a showcase for what Vance does best: imaginary exotica.

* What I liked about it

I like the name. "Cugel" makes me think of "cudgel" - a blunt instrument, for striking and rendering helpless. "Clever" makes me think of "cleaver" - of cutting and making fine distinctions. What Cugel thinks himself and what he proves of himself over the course of this book, compliment and expand on his paradoxical name. (Note: I believe Vance probably had in mind the original meaning of "clever" relating to the hand - a claw, seizing and taking).

Cugel is a wicked, wicked man, and in desperate and dire straits. Cugel suffers - oh does he suffer! - such spectacular torments one wouldn't wish on anyone not at least as evil and desperate as Cugel. But, I've carefully noted, his sufferings are incidental to his sins. I believe there is moral irony here, the same kind that frustrates moralists and decent people when the evil seem to "get away with it" but I believe, craftily inverted. My outrage at Cugel's vile acts, gives way to delight at what seem to be Cugel's punishments, but I'm left unsettled, I don't sense any justice here. I could, and have accepted The Eyes of the Overworld as black comedy with no further gloss. but I have since found it unsettling, but rewarding to think carefully on Cugel's various episodes. If Cugel were less wicked, he wouldn't survive, and on rereading, I've found grace notes of sympathy and even admiration while still feeling appalled.

I have found themes of justice and revenge in almost all I've read of Vance. One the one hand these are primal desires which are probably easy to write about quickly, and Vance seems more concerned with fantastical cultures, set dressing, and wordplay than on these grander notions.

* What I didn't like about it

I think Vance's prose here is generally in excellent form, possibly better than many other books I've read of his. But it does wander about sometimes.

* General thoughts

The Eyes of the Overworld is very short but very dense. A malicious little darkling gem.
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