the Little Red Reviewer

Orca, by Steven Brust

Posted on: July 23, 2012

Orca, by Steven Brust (book 7 in the Vlad Taltos series)

written in 1996

where I got it: purchased used











I am slowly making my way randomly up to Steven Brust’s latest novel, Tiassa. I own about a half dozen book in this series, have already reviewed a few of them, and feel the urge to reread what I can before diving into Tiassa.

Steven Brust is probably the author who got me into fantasy all those years ago. Seriously. I was once a hard core “Scif and only scifi!!” reader, and hubby put a copy of The Book of Jhereg (reviewed here ) in my hands and said I probably wouldn’t like it because it was about an assassin who didn’t like his job, but was incredibly good at it.  20 pages later, I was a fan. by the end of the book I was addicted.  The series follows the adult life of one Vlad Taltos, easterner, witch, assassin, and lover of good cooking who has found himself away from his own kind and living in the Dragaeran Empire. His episodic adventures allow readers to jump around in the series, and as most of the novels weren’t written chronologically, there is much discussion between fans regarding the order in which these books should be read. Some titles are sadly becoming hard to find, so I read them in whatever order I can find them.

The short novel Orca seems to take place around the middle, chronologically.  For readers new to Steven Brust, this book probably isn’t a good starting point due to some major plot line revelations right at the end, and I suggest starting with any of the first 4 books that were written: Jhereg, Taltos, Yendi, or Tekla. Ahh, but for those of you who are already into this series? What a treat Orca is!

Orca differs from the earlier books in the series in that it doesn’t take place in Dragaera City, and we get points of view other than Vlad’s.  Also, Steven Brust can see the future. Observe:

As usual, the story opens because Vlad is in more trouble than he alone can handle. From a previous adventure, he has collected a young boy who suffered a traumatic event and has become somewhat catatonic. Hoping to avoid the authorities and explanations, Vlad’s only option to help the boy is to find a hedge wizard or sorcerer who won’t ask questions. And he does. She lives in a hideous blue cottage (yes really. The characters take turns describing it as such, and it becomes a very funny in-joke), and is about to lose her home to a property management organization that is cancelling her property lease. Their agreement is she will attempt to help the boy if Vlad attempts to help her keep her property.

With the help of his thief friend Kiera, Vlad begins his investigation.

The man who owns the property management organization, along with a few dozen other small businesses that may or may not actually exist?  He’s dead, possibly murder, possibly not.  His other businesses? shut down. The banks he borrowed obscene quantities of money from to run said possibly non-existent businesses?  Closing their doors, cancelling the savings of senior citizens, and generally leaving town like the place is on fire.

Many of the hints Vlad and Kiera uncover lead in opposite directions, and if that old lady is going to keep her horribly ugly cottage, two thieves (along with Vlad’s ever helpful familiars Loiosh and Rocza) will need to figure out why banks and other lending institutions keep breaking the laws, and why the government of the Empire seems to be covering up for them in such a convoluted way.  Orca was written in 1996, but much of this sounds strangely familiar.

The chapters switch back and forth between Vlad and Kiera’s points of view. As I’m so used to only Vlad’s point of view, that took some getting used to for me. But I’m happy Brust put the story together that way, as it was invaluable to see how Kiera and some of the other Dragaerans view Vlad, a short lived foreigner. Also, there are a few letters and conversations between Kiera and Vlad’s estranged wife Cawti, which I highly enjoyed as well.

Don’t expect much in the way action or intrigue or fight scenes or the like in Orca. it’s not that kind of book. It’s a convoluted literary mystery, with character revelations, emotional discussions on morality, and much left unsaid.  I can only hope that while Brust was writing this, that he had as big of a crooked smile on his face as I did when I was reading it.  Yes, this is some mightily serious stuff, but so cleverly presented that you can’t help but smile.

I can’t get enough of Brust’s sly humor, of his subtle dialog, of his characters who say more in a raised eyebrow while puttering about preparing dinner than some other characters say in an entire novel. Vlad may not say it outloud, but he cares deeply for the people he loves, and puts his life on the line more than once for them.  For a tough guy, he sure makes me cry a lot.  And that’s the point: when it comes down to it, Vlad isn’t just an assassin. He isn’t just a witch. he isn’t just an easterner. He’s just a guy.  Just a guy who is still madly in love with his estranged wife, he doesn’t know how to fix things with her, he doesn’t know how he got to this point in his life, and all he knows how to do is move forward, one step at a time, one day at a time, one mistake at a time. And should he lose his way, no doubt Loiosh will say “hey idiot, we’re lost”.

If you’ve never read any Brust, I can’t recommend him highly enough. The more I read of him, the I want to read more of him.


14 Responses to "Orca, by Steven Brust"

And if you get a chance to meet him…TAKE it. A fascinating character.


I’m jealous. I had him in the discussion group I manage on GoodReads, but never met him in the flesh. I’d probably just freeze and grin like an idiot anyway :/


color me jealous! I would be a blubbering fool (like I was when I met Scott Lynch), so he would probably think I was some crazy lady.


I read the first three and stopped. These books were just “OK” for me, I’ve read a lot of better fantasy, or at least better in my opinion. After all, everyone has their own preferences as to what kind of fantasy they like. I enjoy authors others brush off with a wave of their hand. I liked the first one well enough, but the second was too much alike the first, and the third, more of the same…


his style is most certainly not everyone’s flavor of fantasy, that’s for sure.


” Yes, this is some mightily serious stuff, but so cleverly presented that you can’t help but smile.” Perfect way to describe very many of Brust’s works. He’s one of my favorite authors. I’m not sure how far you’ve read into the series, but this book will be a very different experience after you’ve learned one or few things from later books.

(Also, I just saw one of your reviews quoted on the back of an ARC – something from Pyr I think?)


Mostly I’ve read the early ones and the late ones (Iorich, Jhegaala), having some trouble finding copies of some in the middle. I’m hitting up two used bookstores this week that I haven’t raided recently, so maybe I’ll get lucky. Review of Iorich and Jhegaala coming soon, btw.

really?? which Pyr novel? plz let me know the title if you come across it again.


For some reason, I can’t find it. It has to be something they have coming out soon because I only saw it a few days ago. I’m moving soon so my house is a complete chaos, but if I find it I’ll let you know!


I love the Vlad Taltos novels. Maybe they’re a little bit pulpy and a little bit samey, but each one is like delicious candy for my mind. They’re at the pinnacle of light-hearted fantasy…


I started this series years ago. I really should do so again – an finish it.


You definitely make Brust sound appealing, and I wouldn’t mind trying this series out, but it also seems sort of intimidating.


don’t be intimidated. These are short books and for the most part quick reads. If you like 1st person POV, lots of dry humor, mystery, murder, misdirection and a brilliantly designed fantasy world and a little bit of heartbreak, it’s for you. Start with the 1st or 2nd book in the series, and then you can sort of read them in any order.

Would you like to borrow my copy of The Book of Jhereg (first 3 stories)? Let me know, I’ll bring it out to you later this month when I’m over there.



I kinda wish Brust had reserved this book’s big reveal for a moment when it would have had more impact. As is, it’s just a “huh, really?”. 😦


I can agree that the timing was a bit odd, but I liked the big reveal. It was one of those “you better sit down for this” kind of moments. also, frighteningly timely in a real-life sort of way! I’ve got Iorich and Jhegaala to go before I’m going to dive into Tiassa.


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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