the Little Red Reviewer

Athyra, by Steven Brust

Posted on: March 11, 2013

athyraAthyra, by Steven Brust

published in 1993

where I got it: purchased used

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Every house in the Dragaeran empire has something it stands for, its primary characteristics. Vlad is a member of house Jhereg, who stand for Greed and Opportunism. Just because the house of Athyra stands for magic and philosophy doesn’t mean a poor Teckla boy can’t dabble in that as well.

For those of you who are keeping track, Athyra was the 6th Vlad Taltos book written, but chronologically, it comes near the middle of the series, around the 8th or 9th book. The chronology gets a bit wibbly wobbly, as swaths of many books jump back and forth in the time line. If you’ve been following my reviews, Athyra comes after The Book of Jhereg, but before Orca. I’ve read Orca like 3 times, so it was really nice to finally learn what lead up Vlad having to search out the woman who lives in the hideously blue cottage.

Anyway, recently on the run from the Jhereg, Vlad finds himself out in the countryside. And from here on out, we get the story straight from Savn, a young apprentice physiker who at the moment is helping his parents with the flax harvest.  Savn’s life was going so good, why did he have to get mixed up with a short Easterner? But as usual, Vlad needs a hand with whatever mischief he’s getting up to, and Savn seems to have the right blend of curiosity gullibility, and  enough common sense to know when to shut up.

Above all, Savn is a product of his society  – he’s been taught that he will grow up, learn to physick, marry a farmer’s daughter, harvest flax at the right time of year, and tithe most of what he makes to the local Baron. He’s the perfect Teckla – submissive, subservient, and seemingly simpleminded. On the socioeconomic scale of the Dragaeran Empire, the Teckla are at the bottom – the farmers, the peasants, the untouchables. They even have their own priests and doctors, because no one else wants to have anything to do with them.

Much of the book is conversation between Savn and Vlad, with Savn trying to explain that there’s nothing wrong with a provincial farming life, and Vlad trying to explain that things are very, very different in the  big city. Savn wants more out of life, and he’s willing to learn anything this strange short Easterner is willing to teach him.  Savn’s first mistake is questioning his own fate. His second mistake is asking Vlad all sorts of questions about the rest of the world.

When a villager shows up dead, the Teckla immediately believe Vlad is the culprit. He’s a foreigner, an Easterner, some kind of filthy sorcercer, of course he killed the villager!  Savn uses his brain (always a terrible thing for a peasant to do), and gets in too deep trying to save this intriguing foreigner.

I appreciated seeing Vlad through a stranger’s eyes. Savn has never met an Easterner, has never met someone with a mustache, has never met someone with familiars, let alone two jhereg familiars! Vlad has a tough time explaining his life to Savn, and I liked him being forced to explain himself to someone who can’t fathom why anyone would hire an assassin, or why anyone in their right mind would want to be an assassin. It was refreshing to see his explanations from the other side. Trust, or something like it begins to build between Vlad and Savn, and only one of them realizes what a terrible idea this relationship is.

It’s lucky that the one Teckla Vlad chooses to befriend is an apprentice physiker, as Vlad can’t get through a book without getting the shit kicked out of him.  You know how Brust always writes that scene at the end, that one that climbs into your chest, grabs hold of your fragile human heart, tells your heart that everything is going to be okay, and gently whispers “I lied. I can’t promise anything. I’ll give you everything I’ve got, except that promise”.  If you’ve read Brust you know exactly what I mean.  Athyra has that scene, except it’s not what you think, it’s sort of inside out a bit.  I never thought a discussion on the philosophy of medicine could be that poignant.  but that’s what Brust does best – takes the bit I’m not expecting, the bits that in another novel wouldn’t be anything special, and makes it the most powerful scene of the book.

If I had one complaint about Athyra it’s that there wasn’t enough Loiosh! In fact, none at all! my favorite sarcastic jhereg not once was psychically told to shut up. But at least Rocza got some scenes all to herself. She’s a lady I’d like to hear more from. As long as I get some Rocza, I suppose I forgive the lack of Loiosh being his wonderful obnoxious self.

Long review short, if you’re into the Vlad Taltos books, Athyra is a must read. It’s currently available as a volume with Orca (The Book of Athyra), which is perfect, as they function better as one long book instead of two short ones.  If you’re just getting started with this series, I suggest reading The Book of Taltos first, and then you can just right to Athyra from there if you want.

four more Vlad books, and I will be entirely caught up!

the book of athyra

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8 Responses to "Athyra, by Steven Brust"

I really enjoyed Athyra, though I missed Vlad’s POV. And you’re right, the lack of Loiosh was disappointing. Which books in the series do you still have to read?

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I wasn’t so much disappointed as I was surprised. I love the interaction between Loiosh and Vlad, so I missed it.

Books I’ve yet to read are Phoenix, Issola, Dzur and Dragon. I have copies of Dragon and Phoenix, still keeping my eyes out for the other two.

I wonder where in the timeline the new one, Hawk, is going to land? Once I’m completely caught up, I’m going to need to start over and read them all in chronological order. I don’t want to think about how many hints and snippets I’ve missed because I’ve read half of Vlad’s life backwards.

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I read the first 3 in this series years ago. I really, really need to get back to Brust. My man read the entire series and loved it.

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Yes! you totally need to get back to him!

My man got me hooked on Brust with his THE SUN, THE MOON AND THE STARS novel, I loved it. Then I picked up THE BOOK OF JHEREG, and well, the rest is history.

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The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars is incredibly good. I read it years ago and it has haunted me ever since. Damn, must go search shelves for Brust and rearrange reading schedule.

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and this morning I picked up Agyar. so much for getting to the stuff I’d planned to get to, the TBR pile is always being pre-empted by Valente, Brust, a handful of others.

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Well now I’m curious. Oh darn. :D

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once you’ve read the first volume, called The Book of Jhereg, you can kinda jump around in the series after that. Kinda.

but be warned. these books will make you cry. books about professional assassins aren’t supposed to do that.

I need to do a “why you should be reading Steven Brust” blog post, talk about the series as a whole, other books that take place in the same universe, some of his other novels that I’ve enjoyed. . . .

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