Vance, simply put, is one of the best (if not *the* best) modern Sci-fi/Fantasy authors. What one must understand is that Vance is not lauded for revolutionary story ideas (though in some cases, he should be). What Vance is regarded for is his ability to create believeable, motivated, intelligent characters with as much (or more) depth than most real people and place them in equally realistic places. His descriptions and explanations of planets, lifeforms, cultures, and technologies are fleshed out with more attention to detail than one would find contained 10 tourist guides of real places.
Maske: Thaery is no exception. While the themes are not exceptional(coming of age, political intrigue, etc), Vance's prose is. The plot and subplots are gripping, the characters are sympathetic and endearing. This is an excellent read from cover to cover. The only negative aspect of the book is its brevity. A sequel is in order, Jack!