The Worm Ouroboros is a love-it-or-hate-it book. Mannered in its language, weird in so many ways, and chock-full of larger than life characters acting in ways that most people just don’t get. If you have a problem with something written in an archaic style, then you probably won’t get much out of The Worm Ouroboros, but if you like that kind of thing I think the book repays reading and is definitely worth it.
First off a caveat: it took me two reads of The Worm Ouroboros to appreciate it and a third to decide that I thought it was genius.
The Worm Ouroboros is definitely unlike almost anything else out there and is a throw-back to much older works. The first sign, as mentioned above, is the prose itself. E.R. Eddison uses a faux-Elizabethan style that is certainly foreign to most people’s preference for Hemingway-esque ‘transparent prose’. Don’t worry overmuch about this though, for Eddison knew what he was doing and he is one of, if not the, only writers post-Renaissance who actually can get away with this style. He knows what he’s doing, as opposed to the myriad other fantasy authors who try to add ‘realism’ to their stories by sprinkling it with ‘thee’s’ and ‘thous’ without knowing how to properly use the language. This was a man who intimately understood the archaic form of the English language and used it to perfection… he was a stylist and thus anyone who hates stylistic prose will not likely be drawn to him, but anyone who appreciates the craftsmanship of language (think William Morris and Lord Dunsany) has to at least appreciate if not love E.R. Eddison. Reading The Worm Ouroboros is analogous to partaking of a sumptuous feast, so long as you enjoy devouring words.
The characters are not perhaps as ‘psychologically realistic’ as what is generally expected these days, but I’d definitely say they are more than just names. Think of them as archetypal ‘supermen’ striding across the pages performing great deeds for their own sake. They don’t really want to save the world, just experience it to the full, so they may not be particularly sympathetic according to your world view. I always found that they generally had very distinctive characteristics, but they did each generally represent one dominant trait or way of looking at the world.
If you want a larger than life adventure in exquisite prose then I think The Worm Ouroboros is great. If you want something else, you should perhaps skip it.