the Little Red Reviewer

Good Guys, by Steven Brust

Posted on: May 20, 2018

Good Guys, by Steven Brust

published March 6th 2018

where I got it: Purchased new

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What can you do with magic?  Pretty much anything you can do without it, except magic makes things much easier, and much faster.  Students at the Foundation learn chemistry, molecular biology, and physics. They need to know how everything in the natural world works, so they can learn how to properly manipulate it for the results they want.  The applied science of magic is a lot of knowledge, even more practice, and boat ton of will power.

 

Steven Brust’s newest stand alone novel, Good Guys, is Dresden Files meets Columbo, meets a study in the glory that is non-verbal communication.  Donovan Longfellow heads up the American field team for the Spanish Foundation, a secret society staffed by magicians, sorcerers, recruiters, researchers, and assorted administrative staff. As the story opens, Donovan is breaking in his new field specialist, Marci. Fresh out of training, and still thinking she can have a healthy relationship while working for The Foundation, Marci is bright eyed and bushy-tailed, reminding me a little of Gwen from Torchwood. The team is rounded out by Susan the acrobatic ninja, and yep, the three of them are the entire American field team for the Spanish Foundation – saving the world by day, and often working  2nd jobs on the side to make ends meet.  They might be saving the world, and the Foundation offers pretty good health insurance, but the hourly wage sucks.

 

The novel opens with a murder committed by magical means.  Donovan’s team is put on the case, and as the murders stack up, the killings become more and more gruesome. None of the people who are murdered were particularly nice people. Someone is trying to send a message, but what are they trying to say, and why?   The Foundation tends to frown on people using magic for selfish or violent reasons, so why should they care that a bunch of assholes are getting knocked off? Other than the fact that he’s getting paid for it, why should Donovan care?

We get multiple points of view throughout Good Guys, and flipping the expectation of a noir thriller,  the “good guys” chapters – Donovan & crew, Morgan, even Matt – are told in third person, and the assassin, the “bad guys” chapters are told in first person, making it surprisingly difficult to get a mental grip on the surprisingly shy killer.    I’ll admit, the change in point of views threw me off at first, but within 20 pages I was all in.

 

As always, Brust does a fantastic job with characterization.  Donovan is a black guy in New Jersey who travels with his two white female employees, forcing Don to traverse this erm, dynamic, and he knows no one at work is going to understand what’s he going through. Even minor characters like Matt and Mr. Becker are subtly and fully developed. In fact, I’d love to read this exact same story from Becker’s point of view. All the things he must be thinking about, that he can’t tell anyone, because they wouldn’t care or understand anyways.

 

Becker!  How did you become such a sympathetic character? I want to hate you! I spent the first two thirds of this book wanting to punch your stupid face! And I now  care about you! I read this book a second time, because I knew every conversation you were in would read completely different, because even though Donovan doesn’t yet know who you are, I know who you are, and now all I want to do is know the rest of your story.

 

You’ve heard me mention before that I prefer magic systems that are expensive, costing the magician time, or energy, or physical parts of their body or someone else. It’s gotta cost something, you know? In Good Guys, the cost is cold hard cash, and Donovan has to justify every use of the slipwalk, submit invoices and timesheets, and deal with the business and bureaucracy end of magic.  I doubt Harry Dresden or Granny Weatherwax ever had to deal with an angry skype call from Budget and Oversight, where an uncaring accountant insisted on knowing why you rented the SUV instead of the more economical compact car.

 

A very fast paced read with lots (and lots!) of dialog, Brust is pulling a fun little trick in Good Guys.  Brust has always been a little allergic to common dialog scene phrases like “he said”, or “she laughed”, or “he mumbled sleepily”, and even without these phrases, readers who pay attention will be rewarded with all the non-verbal communication that Brust hides on a page that is nothing but dialog, all the reality that is literally between the lines. I’ve seen Gene Wolfe play this trick too.  It can be described as “sparse”, but in the hands of Brust and Wolfe, it’s wry, subtle, and brilliant. I blew through this book over the course of three days, and then about a week later, I read it again.

If you’ve never read Steven Brust,  Good Guys is an excellent place to start.  Look up Brust on Amazon, and you’re sure to run into The Skill of Our Hands (a freaking excellent book!) which is the 2nd in a series he is writing with Skyler White, and Vallista, the something-th novel in his ongoing Vlad Taltos fantasy series.  Should you start at or near the beginning of both of those series? Oh, for the love of good writing, YES! But maybe you want to dip your toes in, get a feel for Brust’s writing style without committing to a series? Good Guys is the book for you. And when you’re done with that, find a copy of Agyar.

 

With plenty of well placed humor and pop culture references, this novel is not at all solid fun and games.  Donovan, Susan, and Marci will need their game faces and every trick in their arsenal to stop whoever is behind the murders.  Marci’s gonna have to grow up faster than she expected, Susan will need to remember everything she ever learned in training, Donovan is going to have to call in favors and ask the hard questions, and I really gotta make a better effort to chat up that guy who is always in my apartment building’s laundry room.

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3 Responses to "Good Guys, by Steven Brust"

Steven Brust has been on my TBR list for a couple of years now – the Vlad Taltos books – but I’ve just kept putting it off because it’s such a massive series and I just don’t know if I can even … This sounds awesome, and absolutely the place for me to begin my relationship with Brust … I’m on it! Thank you!! 😀

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wait, Brust has been on your TBR list for years? dude, you gotta start reading him!

ok, quick quiz for the Vlad Taltos books: Do you like first person point of view? Do you enjoy sarcasm, witty dialog, and snark? Do you like mysterious and magical creatures? Might you like a fantasy world where humans are no where near the top of the food chain? do you like characters who grow in experience and complexity as the series progresses? If you answered YES to all those questions, get started with The Book of Jhereg, which is the first 3 short novels in the Vlad Taltos series, it will set you back less than $20.

Liked by 2 people

Oh my goodness! Yes, yes, yes, yes and YES! I’m on it … like, right now! … *opening another tab and logging in to amazon* … 😀

Liked by 1 person

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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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