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Emphyrio - a stand-alone novel from 1969 by Jack Vance. Here's the flap-copy from the first hardcover, which gives a reasonable summary or set-up:
Halma is a planet in a galaxy thousands of years away in time and space and the home of young Ghyl Tarvok. It is a world of extremes and forever shrouded by the mystical epic of Emphyrio.
Halma is governed by a seemingly antiquated feudal system. All but the powerful, slightly unhuman Lords are involved in the planet's arts and crafts handiwork which is exported and highly regarded throughout the galaxy. Work on machines is punishable by death and profits are small for such demand in perfection.
From his father, Amiante, one of the village's leading carvers, Ghyl slowly learns that the inequalities of life on Halma can be remedied and that the answer lies in discovering the truth of Emphyrio.
When Amiante dies a cruel and unjustifiable death, Ghyl seeks the impossible—the truth.
Knowing that possible death and torture await him with nearly every move, Ghyl pursues his quest throughout the galaxy and beyond. One of his trips takes him to an ancient planet - Earth. And on that old relic of a world, in a language unintelligible, except by translation, the truth has its dawning.
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