the Little Red Reviewer

Issola, by Steven Brust

Posted on: September 1, 2014

issola BurstIssola, by Steven Brust (Vlad Taltos series, #9)

published in 2002

where I got it: purchased used, or maybe paperback swap, I don’t remember.















A friend of mine was going to read Dzur, and I hadn’t read that one before, so I decided to read it too. I picked up the book, and instantly learned two things:  It opens with the famous restaurant scene, and the story picks up immediately after the end of Issola, which I also hadn’t read.  So, promising to come back to Dzur as soon as possible, I grabbed my copy of Issola, which opens with the famous Klava scene.


It turns out Lady Teldra has been sent to seek out Vlad, who has been living rough for the past few years, in hiding from those who would do him or his family harm.  She needs his help, because her patron Lord Morrolan has disappeared, along with Aliera. Patron is certainly wrong word, but we’ll maybe get to that later.  There is nothing to imply Morrolan or Aliera were kidnapped or harmed, yet they are nowhere to be found. Lady Teldra is so very polite when she asks Vlad for help, and she’s come all this way, and if Sethra Lavode is involved he’s sure to be protected, and really, it would be very rude to say no to the Lady.


Peppered throughout the book are Vlad’s thoughts and his and Teldra’s conversations about manners and the unseen value of observing and respecting the etiquette and formalities of the culture in which you find yourself. An overly basic example is in the East, where humans like Vlad live, it is perfectly acceptable to “knock” on someone’s door to announce your arrival. But in the Dragaeran Empire? such a thing would never be done.  This is most certainly not a comedy of manners, but it is a commentary on how they are so ingrained in our culture that after a while we barely notice them, and when practiced, they become second nature.  It begs the question of what else becomes second nature while we weren’t paying attention?


There may not have been any overt signs that Morrolan and Aliera were kidnapped, but when Vlad and Teldra do eventually find them in a world that is not ours, they are chained to a wall, as guests of the Jenoine. And did I mention, there is a river of pure chaos flowing right outside their prison?  If you know anything about the Jenoine, you know this can’t end well.

The price of their freedom is that Vlad needs to kill the Demon Goddess. He’s even provided the weapon with which to do so.  Well, that just complicated matters.  Does one simply walk into the realm of a Goddess and stab her in the heart? No, one does not.  But Vlad does go and talk to her.  They have a surprisingly frank and polite discussion, and he doesn’t kill her (which he wasn’t going to do anyways,  because, reasons).


If you are familiar with this series, you know each book is named after a Dragaeran great house, and that in the course of the book, Vlad will have interactions with someone from that family.  The only Issola he knows is Lady Teldra. Certainly, politeness and adherence to cultural etiquette are a mainstay of their  House,  but are they all as unnervingly polite as Teldra? Are they all as good as she is when it comes to guessing and acting on the needs of others? Are they all as well spoken and fluent in the languages of the ancients as she is? And what exactly does she do for Lord Morrolan? She may always answer the door, but she is more than a housekeeper, certainly.


Issola helps move the overarching plot of the series forward, but as is often the case in these novels, the underlying subtext moves the characters forward in ways action and plot points never could. Subtext is a beautiful thing, by the way.  Also, it needs to be said that there is no one like Lady Teldra, and in this book, the reader learns how she becomes Lady Teldra. If you’ve read further, you know what I’m talking about.


For me, the most important part of Issola were the quiet conversations between Vlad and Teldra, and what happens at the end. She’s bringing to light things he doesn’t think about in concrete terms, things that to each of them are second nature, but in very different ways and for very different reasons. Because I’ve read these books out of order, I know before Vlad does how important his relationship with Teldra is about to become.


It’s funny, how all this discussion of manners and culture and society helps soften the action that is happening in the foreground of the novel. The Jenoine are not to be messed with, we barely know how to communicate with them, let alone know what they want with us!  Lives are at stake, and there is the potential for epic fantasy style death and violence. But all of that is tempered and lightened, all by Lady Teldra’s presence and the way she frames discussions.


I can’t help but wonder how Vlad would have turned out had his father purchased a title in the house of Issola rather than in Jhereg.

What’s up next in the reading queue? Dzur, of course.  and perhaps some klava, now that I know how to make it.  Gonna have to eat a lot of eggs, though.

4 Responses to "Issola, by Steven Brust"

I can’t help but wonder how Vlad would have turned out had his father purchased a title in the house of Issola rather than in Jhereg.

He couldn’t, unless I miss my guess. The only house where you can “buy in” IS Jhereg, which is why you don’t see Easterners in any other House, and pretty few Jhereg are Easterners either.

That all said, Issola is one of my two favorite Brust novels (as I revealed in a “ask me on twitter”) bit.


“He couldn’t, unless I miss my guess. The only house where you can “buy in” IS Jhereg,”

no, you’re completely correct. But I still can’t help but wonder how Teldra or any other Issola would educate an Eastern youth.

Liked by 1 person

I really like Issola and Dzur as back-to-back reads.


As I have probably said before, I read the first three of his books and then stopped. I just wasn’t interested enough in the character(s) or world to continue, and the writing didn’t grab me particularly either. Different strokes and all that, I guess.

And, HAPPY LABOR DAY, kiddo.


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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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