Dying Earth by Jack Vance
I feel the need to give warning to the world...
My main warning -don't feel compelled to read it in the ascribed chronological order!
The only books that are in any order are Eyes of the Overworld and Cugel's Saga.
The other two have not much to do with these two. All of these novels are compilations of shorter works.
The first novel, the one entitled The Dying Earth is a wonderful, creepy, occasionally sad thing that deserves all the praise it usually gets. It has that kind of energy one might get from reading something like Japanese ghost stories. Vance said he had Russian folktales in mind when he wrote it. He often has an offbeat imagination, and it's on great display here. This novel also features the elegant, baroque, prose style that he is famous for ( it's less present in the following novels -pretty much absent from Cugel's Saga).
Rhialto the Marvelous is 3 tales of a group of wizards, and their various exploits. Very entertaining fantasy read. Rhialto and his compatriots are much more compelling than Cugel, whom you would have encountered first if you read the novels in their supposed order.
Eyes of the Overworld introduces one of the most charmless rogue characters that I have come across in all of the fiction I've read -the above mentioned Cugel. The novel has evocative episodes, but is not as compelling as TDE and RtM.
After finishing EotO, I had some trepidation in starting a novel 3 times larger than the other 3, entitled Cugel's Saga.I wished I had trusted my instincts. This is essentially a large collection of short pieces featuring the unloveable plot mechanism that is Cugel. I'll grant it's occasionally funny, but it quickly wears out it's welcome, as Cugel haggles over inn and tavern bills, and terms of employment, ad nauseum, each vignette ending with him being "run out of town on a rail"
Imagine one of the less funny Warner Brothers cartoons,with a running time of 3 hours.
It took an eternity to finish this. Reading it was like riding on a merry go round for a week.
So, in recommended reading order and with my evaluation, for what it's worth:
The Dying Earth****
Rhialto the Marvelous***1/2
Eyes of the Overworld***
Cugels' Saga *1/2 - this one is an infuriating waste of time; parts of it are nothing more than creative typing, to my eye
The Dying Earth is the must read.
If you skip Cugel's Saga, your life would not be the less for it,IMO.
The other two are entertaining - Rhialto the Marvelous and Eyes of the Overworld. I'm pretty sure EotO will fill all your Cugel needs. Cugel's Saga does conclude the story, but in an inconsistent, somewhat lazy, and unsatisfactory fashion.
We're talking about over 700 pages of reading here if you read the whole thing. More than half of your reading time will be spent with Ol' Cugel. You've been warned. As a character, he does not merit the attention.