the Little Red Reviewer

Jhegaala, by Steven Brust

Posted on: September 5, 2012

Jhegaala, by Steven Brust

published in 2008

where I got it: had an ARC from way back when

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On the run from the Jhereg, Vlad needs to lay low for a while, preferably outside the Empire. Conveniently, he’s always meant to visit the country his mother is from, and there’s no time like the present, right? Vlad knows his mother’s maiden name and the village she came from, and that’s about it. With the help of a few spells and charms, no one will be able to find him, provided he’s able to avoid using witchcraft until the trouble back home blows over, if it ever blows over.  And who needs witchcraft when you’ve got two jhereg familiars on your shoulders, right?

Jhegaala is The 11th book (chronologically the 8th)  in Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos series. If you’re a beginner in this series, you’re probably best off starting here.  Already read a  few Vlad books? go ahead and dive into Jhegaala, but know that it’s quite a bit different than the previous stories. For one, it takes place completely outside the Empire, and is more of a hard  boiled detective story.

In a paper-making village in the eastern Kingdoms, Vlad is completely and utterly surrounded by his own kind, and he’s completely and utterly out of his element. Even worse, he’s an ex-assassin, with the habits that tend to come with the job, including rampant paranoia, unbridled suspicion of everyone and everything, and carrying unconcealed weapons.

Vlad gets settled in an Inn in the town, and asks around, trying to find information about his Mother’s family. Where do they live? Are they involved with the paper mill? Are they witches, like him? Does he have any aunts or uncles, nieces or nephews?  As soon as he starts asking questions, everyone’s behavior towards him changes.  he finds out where the family farm is located, but it is burned to ground along with it’s inhabitants before he can get there.

So begins a slowly evolving dark thriller of paranoia, deeply seated suspicions and xenophobia, with the emotional kick to the head that I’ve come to expect (and masochistically crave) at the end of nearly every book in this series.

I’m so used to seeing Vlad in the Empire around other Dragaerans, with him being the outsider trying to look in, that it was fascinating to see him around his own kind. Shouldn’t have been much of a surprise that after over 30 years in the Empire,  he’d gone native. Even around other Easterners, other humans, he’s still an outsider trying to look in. He doesn’t know their customs, doesn’t know their politics, he sticks out like a sore thumb. Only thing they’ve got in common is that the villagers are just as suspicious  and paranoid as Vlad is.  And if no one in this village is hiding anything, then my name is Cawti.

I always enjoy the telepathic conversations between Vlad and his familiar, Loiosh.  Their sarcastic personalities and banter never gets old for me.  Something I’ve always loved about this series is the interaction between Vlad and Dragaerans in the Empire, the mythology and politics of the Empire, and I plain and simple love the mechanics of how the Empire works. With Vlad being so isolated out in the middle of nowhere, I had a tough time getting invested in the plot. Jhegaala will never be my favorite Vlad Taltos novel simply because I spent most of the novel missing the dynamics of the Empire.

That said, the genius of Jhegaala lies in a most unexpected place: the epigrams at the beginning of each chapter and section. Little details like this is why I love Steven Brust so much. the plot? it’s important, but it’s those little funny epigrams that are the real plot of what I think us readers were meant to obverse:

The chapters each open with a few lines of a satirical murder comedy called Six Parts Water, in which the characters are trying to solve a murder, hide a body, deal with strange bureaucratic rules, navigate ancient customs they don’t understand,  and such.

The sections each open with a short selection out of a naturalist’s treatise about the development of jhegaalas, a creature native to the Dragaeran Empire.  Throughout infancy and adolescence, the jhegaala goes through many transformations, some dangerous and painful, but if the little critter is going to survive to maturity, to do the things that need doing, it will need to survive all those painful transformations.

If only Vlad was able to read those same section and chapter openings. I think he’d have made some important connections and avoided a lot of personal frustration.

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4 Responses to "Jhegaala, by Steven Brust"

I love this series. What attracted to me initially is that I was a Dresden Files fan, and found the banter between Vlad and Loiosh very reminiscent of the banter found with Harry.

ahhhh, good banter. it’s worth it’s weight in gold, isn’t it? I wish they’d reprint all the old Vlad books, some of the earlier ones are getting really hard to find.

Well, I was reading all this, interest piqued, and then saw the bit about the earlier books being hard to find – hard to find in USA = impossible to find in the UK. Boo. I love great banter!!!
Lynn :D

This is definitely one of those situations were Amazon and ABEbooks are your friend.

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About this redhead, etc.

Redhead is a snarky, non-politically correct 30-something who reviews mostly science fiction and fantasy and talks about all sorts of other fun scifi and fantasy geekery. She once wrote a haiku that included the word triskaidekaphobia.

This blog contains adult language and strong opinions. The best way to contact her outside of this blog is twitter, where she is @redhead5318 .

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