"Emphyrio" by Jack Vance (1969)
Jack Vance is/was one of the more overlooked science fiction authors. He wrote a lot of books, but he is remembered more for the short stories written very early in his career.
"Emphyrio" was written in 1969, 24 years after Vance's first published story. I can't say how it stacks up against his other books. I've read a few of Vance's short stories, and part of "The Dying Earth," but this is just a drop in the bucket when one considers how numerous his written works truly are.
"Emphyrio" takes place on a distant world, long after humankind has colonized the stars. It resembles in many respects Fritz Leiber's "Gather, Darkness!" But "Emphyrio" is a much better thought-out, more fully realized book.
The protagonist is a member of an artisan class on the planet Halma. He is also a member of a rigidly controlled society, in which most of the profits go to a group of "lords" that inhabit eyries above the abodes of common folk. During the course of the story he progresses from child, to artisan, to pirate, to rebel, with an abstract desire for truth guiding his actions.
My biggest complaint about "Emphyrio" is the fact that the science fiction elements are just window dressing. If one so desired, it would be possible to remove all of the spaceships, other worlds, and alien races from this book, and it would still be pretty much the same story. For this reason, I would categorize "Emphyrio" as a book that belongs more to the fantasy genre.
"Emphyrio" also suffers from some serious pacing issues, and many events in the book are made less momentous by the author's urgent need to arrive at a resolution. In other hands, the events of the protagonist's life might have been given greater import, but as it is they just seem to flash by, without any real significance.
Jack Vance wrote some excellent short stories, but I found "Emphyrio" somewhat disappointing. I would not recommend this book.