I actually read this book a week ago in Burgundy, but am following up on james_nicoll's suggestion that we all blog about it today - Hughes has kindly been distributing it electronically to anyone who promises to review it on-line.
In style, it is a conscious homage to Jack Vance, whose Tales of the Dying Earth I enjoyed a couple of years ago. There are three notable differences. First, Hughes' hero, Conn Labro, is a naïf rather than a man of smug sophistication like Cugel: he comes from a planet where all transactions are based on economics, so that (as another character describes him) he knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. The novel therefore becomes a quest on several levels as he explores the universe, discovers the truth about his origins and gets the girl and his inheritance. Second (though this may just me my lack of appreciation), it is much less funny. The worlds and cultures that Conn Labro encounters on his journey to enlightenment tend to be monolithically organised around a single principle, but the effect (for me anyway) was sinister rather than humorous, and presumably intended to be so.
Those two differences with Vance are matters of authorial choice, and I think Hughes deliberately takes his story in a direction Vance didn't go, and on the whole navigates well. The third difference I noted, unfortunately, is not to Hughes' credit. The women of Hughes' universe are much less visible than the men: there is the central character's love interest, a slightly comical police detective, and another character who stands and watches her brother gambling (why does she not gamble herself?) and is then horribly murdered. Vance's women are much more interesting, and on occasion get the better of his hero. If Hughes' hero doesn't always win the argument, he makes up for it by saving his lover's life.
One other small point I regretted in Hughes book - a road not taken, perhaps - is that there is a hint in an early chapter that the somewhat two-dimensional cultures described are each intended to represent one of the Seven Deadly Sins. This is a neat idea, and would have brought an interesting extra set of structures to mesh with what is a fairly standard hero's quest narrative; but Hughes doesn't quite do it. Still, I enjoyed the grand narrative sweep and general sensawunda. Good fun.