A stand-alone fantasy book from 1986.

Well, that was different. It wasn’t much like the Vlad Taltos series and definitely not like the Paarfi books. BP does have some of his usual style with lot of dialogue and short to nonexistant descriptions but the humor was much more subtle than in the books I’ve previously read from him.

The book is set in Fenario or the human inhabited lands of both the Paarfi books and the Taltos books. Devera makes an appearance. However, it’s not clear where in the Taltos time line this book is set in, if indeed it belongs in that time line at all.

I think I heard it said that the story is based on a Hungarian fairy tale. While there are definite fairy tale like components in the story, the writing style isn’t similar except for, perhaps, the chapters where we are told the back story of the country and in some of the tales in the Interlude -chapters. The Interludes between the chapters have sometimes something to do with the main story but more often they are short fairy tales in a conversational style.

The main story is about four brothers. The eldest of them is László who is the current king of Fenario. He’s a dutiful king but sometimes he refuses to see what is right in front of his nose. The second brother is Andor who is restless. He’s looking for something to give meaning to his life. The third brother is Vilmos who is a giant and very strong. In the palace’s cellars, he cares for a small group of norska. The youngest brother is Miklós and in the best fairy tale tradition, this is his story.

At the start of the story, Miklós and László have had a terrible fight, and Miklós is near death. But the River carries him away and heals him. Next, Miklós meets a talking horse who carries him away to the land of the Fairies because Fenario is no longer safe for Miklós to live in. Some years pass and Miklós returns to the palace because it’s his home after all. However, László still can’t quite trust him. Of course, as the king he can’t really trust anyone. And there’s something in Miklós’ old rooms that keep growing and is perhaps a threat to the kingdom.

Most chapters have alternating point-of-view characters and only Miklós gets more than one POV chapter. Each chapter also reveals to the reader the POV character’s secrets which the other characters often don’t know about at all.

The pace is slower for a Brust book and the story is also more metaphorical than his other books.

The book isn’t really long enough to delve deep into the characters but each POV character gets more depth. My only real complaint is that there aren’t many female characters, only four if you count the Demon Goddess and the old Queen who doesn’t have any lines.

Interesting, but not Brust’s best.