The city of Ambroy, on the planet Halma, is a place best described as "medieval Stalinist" with secret police, remote lords in their Eyries, powerful nepotistic guilds, and a welfare and taxation system which seems fine when you think about it, except for the fact that the game is rigged and no one is in fact paid anything like what they worth. On this world, incredible craftsmen produce priceless works of art, unknowing all the while. It's a depressing and bleak place, but that's not the worst of it, as it turns out.
You can argue that Jack Vance doesn't write "science-fiction" but rather social satire that just happens to have aliens and spaceships in it. The story here is really in the telling, and a plot summary is largely a waste of time, and probably misleading as well. Ghyl Tarvoke is our hero: we see his relationship with his father (but there is no maternal relationship at all) and how that shaped him into becoming a thief, pirate, scholar and revolutionary (remember that any plot descriptions are misleading, even if literally true).
Vance here is writing a story about human nature, people and their follies and foibles, as well as about power structures and unquestioning obediance to "how things have always been" (the religion involving "leaping" to some end never made clear, is both superb and confounding). There is action and contemplation in equal measure; one can read this on a few levels and enjoy it on all of them. This is a really accessable starting point for Vance - short and yet complex, with a style unmistakely unique that leads you deeper and deeper into the tale. Go read some of the sample above, and if you like it, you could do a lot worse than buy it.