The twelveth book in one of my favorite fantasy series. Excellent!
Publication year: 2010
Page count: 319
”A stupid person can make only certain, limited types of errors; the mistakes open to a cleaver fellow are far broader. But to the one who knows how smart he is compared to everyone else, the possibilities for true idiocy are boundless.”
Vlad Taltos is minding his own business, being on the run from the House and criminal organization of Jhereg. Three thugs try to rob him, unsuccessfully, and Vlad celebrates his new wealth in a nearby tavern. There, he hears that one of his closest friends, Aliera e’Kieron, has been arrested by the Empire for the crime of practicing Elder Sorcery. Vlad knows that it’s utter foolishness for him to return to the capital Dragaera City. Nevertheless, he’s in the next boat to the capital.
Once there, he very carefully tries to keep only to the areas where the Jhereg aren’t likely to attack him; the Imperial Palace and Castle Black. He finds out that Aliera doesn’t want an advocate and isn’t interested in defending herself. The punishment for her crime is death, so Vlad is somewhat confused. He also knows that the Empress has known for years that Aliera practices Elder Sorcery, so he strongly suspects that something else is going on. Something big enough that forces the Empress to arrest one of her friends. A stubborn, quick-tempered friend who can hold a grudge forever.
I was very glad indeed to see Vlad return to his old stomping grounds and to his old friends. Aliera, Morrolan, Sethra, Kiera, Kragar, Daymar, and even Cawti are back. Along the way, there are also new characters because Vlad is forced to spend most of the time inside the Imperial Palace where he doesn’t know anyone. Aliera’s lawyer Perisil is also a major character.
The Imperial Palace is a vast and surreal place. At one point, after Vlad has gotten lost, he finds out that there’s a whole town inside the palace. The place houses hundreds if not thousands of Dragaerans; officials, messengers, jailers, prisoners, cooks, cleaners, courtiers, innkeepers etc. It has endless, ostensibly decorated hallways, long and short corridors, and stairways.
The plot starts with a court case so we find out somethings about the Dragaeran justice system, at least for the high nobles; we’ve already found out quite a lot about how it works for those on the lowest rungs of the society. Such as Jhereg and the humans. Justice for the high-ups seems to be just as much dependent on who you are and who you know, as to the lower rungs.
I was delighted to see the old friends after too long time. They all are pretty much the same as I remembered them. There are, however, some mysterious references to things which have happened to Vlad after the previous book, such as him getting an Dragaeran lover! I hope the stories will be told at some point. There are also two scenes where Vlad visits his ex-wife Cawti and their son. I got the feeling that if the Jhereg weren’t after Vlad, he and Cawti may try again. Certainly, it didn’t look like Cawti had remarried or was living with anyone.
Each chapter starts with a short excerpt related to the legal prosecution such as a witness statement or letter. Some of them are quite funny. Of course, Vlad and Loiosh are in their old form, cracking jokes and being sarcastic or ironic pretty much all the time.
The plot is not heavy on violence. Most of it is Vlad finding out facts and rumors, and sorting them out to a coherent whole; so the plot centers on intrigue. He gets beat up once and is hurting several days later, because he can’t use magic to heal himself.
Pretty much every fantasy book today seems to have flashy magic, so it was refreshingly familiar to return to Dragaera where magic is psionic and pretty much undetectable:
[Morrolan] ”got up and walked out, so I missed seeing the powerful sorcerer doing his powerful sorcery, which would have involved him closing his eyes and then, I don’t know, maybe taking a deep breath or something.”
I really loved this book; it’s like returning to old friends and seeing how they are today.
If you haven’t read the series before, I recommend starting with the Book of Jhereg, which an omnibus of the three first books. I think starting with this one would be confusing because very few things or people are explained. However, the plot is self-contained, so plot-wise it can be read as a stand-alone.