Matthew Hughes' readers are likely already familiar with his character Luff Imbry, master thief and art forger. The Other begins with Imbry being kidnapped and deposited on a remote, backward desert planet called Fulda. Imbry then continuously devotes his formidable analytical powers to several problems. First, survival. Second, the Fuldans' peculiar history, customs, religion, and political conflicts, because understanding these turns out to be essential for survival. Third, the identity and purpose of his kidnapper, so that Imbry can avenge himself. And fourth, how Imbry can return to Old Earth from a planet that has no spaceports.
Fulda is inhabited solely by a cult devoted to physical conformity, which has been almost completely achieved after centuries of inbreeding. Formerly "irregulars" were killed. But since a subcult has developed where irregulars facilitate mystic revelations, they are permitted to live, though subjected to segregation and prejudice. Because Imbry is both an offworlder and obese, he is deemed an irregular. He finds himself forced to play a role in the cult's mythology.
Plotwise, The Other alternates between fast action and Imbry's discoveries, which then facilitate another part of the action. Imbry indulges in long meditations, which, although neatly fitted into breaks such as incarceration and slow traveling, sometimes become tedious. Imbry repeatedly gives the same history and analysis of the cult, narrows down the same list of potential kidnappers, and reiterates the same escape plans.
Imbry is also a rather wooden character, displaying almost no emotion and with no eccentricities other than an oft-mentioned love of gourmet cuisine. Matthew Hughes is marketed as a successor to Jack Vance, and Fulda is as colorful as any of Vance's societies. However, Hughes' works move increasingly away from Vance-style baroque language and ironic wit. True, the plot does, at the end, turn out to be ironic--but not witty. Hughes may (or may not) intend certain concepts to be funny--for example, the Fuldan requirement that everyone go nude except for a hat, sandals, and a pouch for carrying small items. If he does, the concept is not inherently funny (many primitive societies on Earth haven't worn much), and the book is not written in a way that makes it funny.
The direction Imbry chooses at the end of The Other doesn't quite make sense. But it does leave the door wide open for a sequel. I look forward to it.