Now that I've read this all the way through, I found that the excellence of the stories drew me in. And while expensive I have to say it is a real pleasure to hold in the hand a well-bound book, with good quality paper and a cover ("boards"), esp when I took off the dust jacket and only put it back on when I was finished.
I'm glad to finally get all the Averoigne stories together in one volume (which will partially replace the photocopy assemblage I made for myself years ago that's had to serve till now). Not only are these particular favorites of mine but, as I've said elsewhere, I think this the best story-cycle by Smith, the most brilliant of the WEIRD TALES school; the man who cd out-Lovecraft Lovecraft.*
First off, the first story in the book isn't an Averoigne tale at all but a Poe pastiche different in setting, period, and tone. For me it really set the wrong note.
Second, each story is preceded and followed by a Smith poem.** I'm still undecided about the merits of Smith's poems (let's say the jury is out on that one for now). In this case, while I see the effect they were aiming for, I think these interlinear pieces fail to achieve it. I'd have preferred that they instead inserted in their appropriate places the outlines Smith left behind for three more ultimately unwritten stories in the cycle, as 'legends of Averoigne' or some similar framework. For one thing, this wd have given them a better volume-opener ("The Oracle of Sadoqua", a tale involving Smith's own Great Old One, Tsthuggua), set in Roman times, than "The Maker of Gargoyles" (chronologically the earliest story in the series).
I'm also puzzled why the editorial material, particularly the Afterword, make so much of Lin Carter, whom they honor as the person who thought of this collection years ago. That's true enough, though to my mind he's the person who had the chance to published this collection back in the early seventies and blew it. The Afterword also devotes much space to arguing that this collection is the closest thing we'll ever get to a Clark Ashton Smith novel (to which I say: not very).
Still: it's good to have this collection at last. I'm still grateful to Tom Moldvay's work for first introducing me to Smith's Averoigne stories. And I'm still v. much looking forward to the book of Smith's art (drawings, paintings, sculpture) that shd be out sooner rather than later, also from Centipede Press
current reading: a pair of slim (Osprey) books on the Irish revolution and subsequent Irish Civil War (for background to better understand Dunsany's unfortunate experiences therein).***
current music: Glen Campbell's "Wm Tell Overture" (the man sure cd play guitar). R.I.P. to a fellow Arkansan.
*I've given my own opinion of Smith's Averoigne tales elsewhere (in my CLASSICS OF FANTASY piece on said stories), so here'll I'll just note a few things about this specific collection.
**except the last poem, which is by Lovecraft and about CAS and Averoigne.
***which included having been shot in the head. 1916 was a really bad year for Lord D.