The Eyes of the Overworld is the first of Vance’s picaresque novels about the scoundrel Cugel. Here he is sent by a magician he has wronged to a distant unknown country to retrieve magical lenses that reveal the Overworld. Conniving to steal the lenses, he escapes and, goaded by a homesick monster magically attached to his liver, starts to find his way home to Almery. The journey takes him across trackless mountains, wastelands, and seas. Through cunning and dumb luck, the relentless Cugel survives one catastrophe after another, fighting off bandits, ghosts, and ghouls—stealing, lying, and cheating without insight or remorse leaving only wreckage behind.
Betrayed and betraying, he joins a cult group on a pilgrimage, crosses the Silver Desert as his comrades die one by one and, escaping the Rat People, obtains a spell that returns him home. There, thanks to incompetence and arrogance he misspeaks the words of a purloined spell and transports himself back to the same dismal place he began his journey.