the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘Vlad Taltos

I’m over at SFSignal today, reviewing Steven Brust’s newest Vlad Taltos novel, Hawk.   This is the 14th book in the series, but a surprisingly good spot for new fans to jump right in.  Still on the fence? Click here for a review I wrote a while back for The Book of Jhereg, which is comprised of the first 3 short novels of the series.

hawk

 

Even though Vlad spends most of the book saying “hello” to people, the entire novel has an undeniable underlying fatalism, an inescapable feeling that he’s really returned to Adrilankha to say “goodbye”. Vlad isn’t stupid. He knows there’s a chance he’s not going to make it to the end of the book. A really good chance.

Fatalism aside, Hawk allows me to say something I haven’t been able to say about this series in ages: For readers brand new to the Vlad Taltos series, this is an excellent place to jump right in and get a feel for Brust’s wry writing style, the way he does world building and characterization, and everyone’s favorite sarcastic semi-retired assassin, Vlad Taltos.

 

Read the rest of the review HERE.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Tiassa, by Steven Brust

published in 2011

where I got it: purchased new

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I am among the fans who came to Tiassa with trepidation. The two books that come before it, Jhegaala and Iorich are slower, quieter reads. Not much happens, Vlad pines for his ex-wife, everyone is very sad about a lot of things, the witty snark was toned down. They aren’t bad books by any means (Brust’s writing will break your heart no matter what’s going on in the story) they just aren’t super fun to read. Would Tiassa be more of the same?  I didn’t even care if it moved the timeline forward, I just wanted the feeling of fun, and adventure, and optimism that I’d gotten out of the earlier Vlad  books.

After a handful of “meh” reads these last few weeks, I was desperate for a book that would grab me and insist that it was going to lead this dance.  I needed a comfort read; an author I could trust to transport me to a different world, a book that would swallow me whole so quickly I wouldn’t even feel its teeth.

Steven Brust’s Tiassa to the rescue.

I saw a review on Amazon that said Tiassa was Brust’s love letter to his fans, and after reading it I have to whole heartedly agree.  If you are already a long time reader of the Vlad Taltos series, you will be in heaven with Tiassa. But on the flip-side, if you’re new to the series, this is a terrible place to start (start here. really.).

The book is sharply divided in three portions, with interludes inbetween, and throughout everything a silver tiassa sculpture keeps coming up.  A tiny, seemingly useless sculpture of a winged cat, it may have been forged by the gods or it may be worthless. Regardless, the little tiassa seems to be making its own plans.  Packed with the requisite witty dialog but jumping around in time and touching on Draegaran mythology, Tiassa isn’t so much a Vlad Taltos book as it is a Dragaeran Empire book.

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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.

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

written in 1996

where I got it: purchased used

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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.


2014 Hugo Awards

I reviewed some Hugo nominated stuff. Click here for the list.

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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.