The novel “Cugel’s Saga”, sometimes published as “Cugel: The Skybreak Spatterlight”, by Jack Vance was published for the first time in 1983. It’s the third novel in the cycle of the Dying Earth and is the sequel of “The Eyes of the Overworld“.
Cugel’s revenge against Iucounu the Laughing Magician had the worst possible result backfiring. Again, Cugel is sent to the distant land to which he was already sent once and must find a way back home.
Renewing his vengeance oath against Iucounu the Laughing Magician, Cugel decides to take a route different from the one taken in his previous journey hoping that this one is less dangerous. However, on the Earth of the future so far away that the Sun may die at any time there are always some dangers to travelers.
Several years after writing the stories that make up “The Eyes of the Overworld”, Jack Vance completed his tales of the adventures, but above all the mishaps, of this scoundrel always ready to take advantage of others. In fact, “Cugel’s Saga” starts where the previous novel ends, with Cugel who was planning his revenge against Iucounu the Laughing Magician but as it often happens to him his plan failed.
In “Cugel’s Saga”, once again Jack Vance shows his extraordinary imagination creating more strange places and people with more curious customs. Again in this novel Cugel’s journey back home takes place in stages, passing through several cities and sailing on the sea.
This time, Cugel hasn’t the little alien Firx inside his body continually tormenting him to force him to return to Iucounu the Laughing Magician. During this journey, he’s pushed only by his desire for revenge against the sorcerer who in one way or another forced him to take those long and dangerous journeys.
In each of the stages of his journey, Cugel tries to implement some kind of scam against the people he meets. Cugel always thinks he’s smarter than others and that’s why he calls himself the Clever but usually he ends up being duped by someone else.
“Cugel’s Saga” is the longest novel in the cycle of the Dying Earth, almost twice as long as “The Eyes of the Overworld”. In the nearly twenty years elapsed between those two literary works, the market changed so Jack Vance could write a novel composed by more complex adventures.
If length changed, Jack Vance’s style remained the same used in “The Eyes of the Overworld”. In fact, “Cugel’s Saga” too is told with a good dose of humor which among other things makes us see the title character with sympathy despite the fact that he’s definitely a negative character.
Again, in “Cugel’s Saga”, Jack Vance often uses terms archaic and sophisticated, sometimes even made up. In the dialogues thus obtained the characters can even insult each other in very elaborate ways keeping a kind of polite facade.
Over the years since the publication of the stories that make up the first two novels of the cycle of the Dying Earth, there was also a greater differentiation between science fiction and fantasy. Today, hybrids between these two genres such as this cycle are called science fantasy and if they still exist it’s also thanks to Jack Vance.
The cycle of the Dying Earth has a sci-fi basis with a fantasy flavor because it’s set in a very distant future in which science is indistinguishable from magic. However, in the previous novels there were several references to the ancient sciences and occasionally there were old machines, instead “Cugel’s Saga” is much more similar to today’s fantasy novels. Actually, there’s not a big change, only those references to those science fiction basis are missing.
We can consider “Cugel’s Saga” a classic of the fantasy genre. Being the second part of Cugel’s adventures, it’s really better to read it together with “The Eyes of the Overworld” but I suggest you to read the whole cycle of the Dying Earth.