Steven Brust

The newest book in the Vlad Taltos series. It’s the 15th.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 9 and 31 minutes
Narrator: Bernard Setaro Clark

This it the first Vlad Taltos book I’ve listened as an audiobook and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the reader, Clark. Of course, he can’t sound like I imagined the characters sounded like in my head, but I liked his interpretation of them well enough. It took a little while to get used to the breathy voice he used for Loiosh, Vlad’s familiar, but now I think it’s good, easy to distinguish from Vlad’s voice.

Anyway, Vlad is back in Anhdrilankha, the capital of Dragaera, and staying in the Easterners’ part of the city. Then Devera appears behind his door. Devera is… a bit hard to explain. She looks like a little (Dragaeran) girl and she’s the daughter of one of Vlad’s Dragaeran friends. However, she hasn’t been born yet and she has the ability to appear in different times and places. We’ve been seeing little glimpses of her in some of the previous books. So, now she comes to Vlad because she’s in trouble and needs his help. Vlad is glad enough to help her even though he doesn’t really understand the situation, and neither does the reader.

So, Devera takes Vlad (and Loiosh and Loiosh’s mate Roszca) to a manor which seems to have been abandoned. Once inside, Devera disappears and Vlad and the Jheregs are promptly trapped there. They wander around the manor, meeting the master of the place, the servants, and sometimes the soldiers. They can’t get out until Vlad has solved the puzzle of the manor.

While this isn’t the best book in the series, I enjoyed it a lot. It has lots of humor and remarks between Loiosh and Vlad. I also very much enjoyed some elements which would be a huge spoiler to mention.

Vallista gives us tidbits about Vlad’s past and also about the past of the whole Dragaeran Empire and the gods. I also rather enjoyed Vlad’s interactions with the Dragaerans in the house and, er, elsewhere.

But it’s not a starting point to the series at all. You need to know about Vlad and about the world before you can fully enjoy this novel. I recommend starting with the first book, or rather the omnibus of the three first books, the Book of Jhereg.

“It is a truth universally acknowledge that a human assassin in possession of an important mission must be in want of a target.”

Rejoice! A new Vlad Taltos book!

Publication year: 2014
Format: print
Page count: 320
Publisher: Tor

First things first: Hawk is the fourteenth book in the series and I’m happy to read it, so: I love the characters and the setting, there’s no question about it and I can’t really say how someone who reads Hawk as their first Brust book would feel about it. But briefly: Vlad is a (former) assassin and he’s a human in a world where humans are second-class people (if that) and the world is ruled by Dragaerans (elf like, very long lived people). Vlad used to work in the criminal organization/noble house Jhereg but for almost the whole series he’s had a prize on his head and has been running from the Jhereg. He has just his familiar Loiosh and a few good friends to help him. He had to leave behind his home, wife, and everything he knew before and is quite bitter about it.

He’s also really tired for it and has returned his home city Adrilankha even though that means that he’s in constant danger and worse: he also puts his ex-wife in danger. After surviving an almost successful attack on his life, he has an epiphany and now he might have found a way to get the prize off his head. Of course, it’s not going to be easy and most likely he’ll be double crossed sooner or later. But Vlad might finally be able to return home.

Hawk is written in the first person and in a very conversational style. It’s not a long book and some of the material even seems extraneous with Vlad talking with Loiosh, Kragar, and various other characters. I don’t mind since I love the characters. Especially Sethra and I was happy when Vlad took a detour to the Dzur Mountain. However, that means that there’s actually very little plot in the book, because the majority of pages are just a set up for the big plan. It’s not a bad book by any means but not one of the best, either. But the ending left me very curious about where the series will go in the future. What you will get is sparse descriptions, witty and sarcastic dialog, and Vlad develling so much in his situation than even his familiar tells him to stop it.

Once again, Brust’s book left me craving for more. In fact, I’m thinking of rereading the Khaavren romances.

The thirteenth book in one of my favorite fantasy series.

Publication year: 2011
Page count: 336
Format: print
Publisher: TOR

“Is this going to work?”
I considered that: “Almost certainly, probably, there’s a good chance, perhaps, and I very much hope so, depending on which part of it we’re discussing. Your end, almost certainly.”

Tiassa has three stories with different narrators. They are bound together by the hunt for a silver tiassa jewelery which is supposed to have mysterious powers. The book has several characters from the Khaavren Romances.

However, the book starts with a short prologue narrated in the first person by Vlad who is visiting Sethra Lavode, the Enchantress of the Dzur Mountain. Vlad tells Sethra how he got hold of a silver tiassa.

The Silver Tiassa part start with a short prologue narrated in the first person, in a rather breathless pace, by a young girl whom I strongly suspect is the mysterious Devera. She has the silver tiassa which one of the gods made, and is looking for someone to hold onto it for a while. Naturally, she turns to uncle Vlad. Most of Silver Tiassa is narrated by Vlad in the first person. It’s set in an earlier time when Vlad was engaged to Cawti. He’s setting up a heist with two non-Jhereg people who are familiar to those who have read the the Viscount of Adrilankha novels. The male person calls himself the Blue Fox which Vlad mocks mercilessly, although mostly in his thoughts.

Then we move on Whitecrest, where each chapter is written in the POV of a different character, in third person. The time moves several years forward: Vlad is on the run from the Jhereg and his son is a few years old. The court wizard has noticed that there’s a threat of Jenoine invasion and the Empress and her closest advisors are doing everything they can to stop it. Apparently, a silver tiassa should have the powers to prevent it.

Then there’s an interlude which tells a lot of Devera’s origin, or rather conforms some speculation about her.

The last part, Special Tasks, is written by Paarfi and centers on the Guard Captain Khaavren who turns out to be also the leader of the Empress’ Special Task force. Vlad has been beaten up and because he has an imperial title, Khaavren tries to find out as much as he can about Vlad’s situation.

Paarfi’s style is very distinctive: “We should note that the Khaavren of two hundred years before would have ridden a horse rather than a carriage; but we also note that the Khaavren of two hundred years before was younger; and younger, we should add, by the amount of two hundred years.”

There’s also an epilogue with current time from Vlad’s POV.

Well, well. This isn’t a light read. Each story is set in a different point in time with different narrators as well and that can be jarring, to say the least. However, I through enjoyed it. I have only two criticisms: 1, more Morrolan, please, and 2, the overall plot doesn’t seem to advance much. However, in the first story we get to see Kragar and Cawti which was great. I also greatly enjoy heist stories and it was very interesting to see it set up. I really enjoyed the little bits we got about Devera who has been a mystery for far too long.

In the second story we got to see Cawti’s POV for the first time and that was a treat. I also enjoyed the Khaavren romances so I’m familiar with Paarfi’s writing style and got several chuckles out of it. I’ve also enjoyed the characters in the Khaavren books so it was a real treat to see them again. (Hmm. I have a hankering to reread the books.)

However, for people who haven’t read the Khaavren books or, dare I say it? don’t like them, Tiassa is mostly likely a very frustrating book.

This time we got a lot of insight into how other people see Vlad. He’s an Easterner but also holds an Imperial Title, which is quite confusing to some Dragaerans. We also get to see a bit of the racism between Dragaerans and Easterners which we don’t really see much because Vlad’s Dragaeran friends don’t talk so, at least around him. Khaavren tells his underling in all earnestness to treat an Easterner like a Dragaeran; in other words like a human. Clearly, he doesn’t think much of Easterners.

I found it very interesting that the House of Tiassa makes such rigid boundaries with the performance of music: compositional music is okay but performing social music is not acceptable.

The twelveth book in one of my favorite fantasy series. Excellent!

Publication year: 2010
Page count: 319
Format: print
Publisher: TOR

”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.

This bar travels through time and space, and possibly dimensions, as well.

Billy is a banjo player in an Irish music band which performs in Cowboy Feng’s Bar and Grill. Once again, a nuclear bomb has detonated near the bar destroying pretty much everything. Except the bar which has again jumped through space and time to a human colony which is not on Earth. The first jump was from London to the Moon, then to Mars, and again to Venus. Billy and his friends don’t know why or how they are jumping around. They haven’t stayed in one place long enough to find out. However, they might be long enough in New Quebec to do some research. Like who is blowing up all those places?

This is short an amusing read but pretty light. Alas, I also guessed the twist ending beforehand and I usually suck at that. There’s a lot of humor and the characters are pretty cynical as is usual for Brust. However, this time they might be a bit too cynical. It’s pretty hard to understand why they haven’t looked into all of the weird happening before this. After all, they come from mid-1980s and didn’t have Lunar colonies back them.

Each short chapter starts with a couple of lines from different folk songs. The narrative is full of music and food. Half of the characters are the band who tend to practice and perform. There’s a short Intermezzo between almost every chapter. The first one is a dialogue where it becomes clear that someone has built and sent the Bar and Grill, and that someone is trying to blend into the 1980s culture. Other interludes are short character studies from different characters’ pasts. Frankly, I liked those more than the main story.

Then, suddenly the action starts and it’s very violent. The change what pretty weird. On one page, they’re a band and pretty normal characters. And on the next page, they’re cool gunslingers. Except for Billy, he doesn’t even carry a gun. In fact, Billy reminds me strongly of Vlad Taltos: the thinking type and unlucky in love.

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.

Steven Brust’s Jhegaala

Like the ungrateful reader I am, I want mooooore!!

“Just because they are really out to get you doesn’t mean you aren’t paranoid.”

Issola is another very good and much too short Vlad Taltos –book. This time an old acquaintance approaches Vlad while he is sleeping in the woods. Vlad is fleeing from his own noble house so he doesn’t like to be awakened that way. Even if the person turns out to be Morrolan’s greeter Lady Teldra who is one of the few people who seems always glad to see Vlad. So the grumpy Vlad lays down to sleep again. In the morning Lady Teldra tells him why she has sought him out: both Morrolan and Aliera are missing and can’t be reached by mental communication. Vlad agrees to be teleported to Dzur Mountain and to Sethra Lavode to hear more about it.

Sethra suspects that very powerful people have kidnapped both: the Jenoine who are, in short, enemies of Dragaeran, humans, and gods. Verra the Demon Goddess and the other gods protect both humans and Dragaerans from them. The hatred goes back to the times before humans came to this planet.

Anyway, Vlad’s Spellbreaker manages to find Morrolan’s sword Blackwand and so Vlad and Lady Teldra step forward, and right into the windowless and doorless room where the duo is imprisoned. The four people don’t have much time to wonder about the situation before the Jenoine themselves appear. Only Lady Teldra can speak their language and she informs Vlad that the Jenoine want a little something before they will release Aliera and Morrolan: they want Vlad to kill Verra. They even give him the dagger to do it with.

This is one of my favorite Vlad books. It has a very fast pace, lots of banter, we learn more about Dragaeran society (their views about gods), and about the background of the whole world. We also get to know Lady Teldra a little and she seems very likable for a Dragaeran. Once again I have only one complaint: too short!

This is yet another departure from the majority of the previous Vlad Taltos –books because this one is jointly narrated by Kiera the Thief and Vlad.

The story starts when Vlad’s (ex?) wife Cawti sends a letter to Kiera asking if she has seen Vlad and Kiera agrees to tell her about the time she last saw Vlad.

Vlad contracts Kiera to do what she does best: steal. He wants her to steal documents from the house of a nobleman who has died recently. Of course, Kiera wants to know the whole story and so Vlad tells his own side of the tale to Kiera who in turn is telling the tale to Cawti. There are also a few short conversations between Cawti and Kiera, and tantalizing bits about things to come.

For a year Vlad has been looking for a cure for Savn, the boy who was badly wounded in the previous book. Because he’s a fugitive from his own noble house, the Jhereg, so it’s difficult. However, he has heard about a sorceress, an old Dragaeran woman, who is renowned for her skills of being able to heal those who have been wounded mentally, as Savn was. Vlad finds the old woman but she doesn’t want gold. Instead, she would like to stay in her blue cottage. An Orca nobleman, who owned a lot of companies and other things, have died and the creditors want to cash in. So, the old woman has been given an eviction notice. Vlad agrees to look into it and hires Kiera to steal the dead man’s documents.

However, it’s not easy to even find the company, not to mention the individual, who owns the deed of the house currently. While Vlad searched for those, he finds out a lot of strange things going on around the death of the Orca nobleman. Once again, Vlad has managed to stumble into a vast and complicated plot which isn’t easy to figure out. And after this time, the Empire itself might want Vlad’s head as well. Kiera agrees to help Vlad to get to the bottom of the mess.

Orca is a fun little book full of witty dialogue, fast twists, and quirky characters. The only problem with it is that it’s way too short! I was also very intrigued to see things from Kiera’s point-of-view. She a fascinating character and hasn’t been used much in the previous books.

The Orca is a noble house which is dedicated to seafaring and merchants. They also do a lot of banking and so the Empire is quite dependent of them.

Phoenix starts only a short time after Teckla. Vlad gets an unexpected audience from his patron god: Verra the demon goddess. She hires Vlad to kill the king of Greenaere which is an island kingdom some distance away from the Empire’s shores. Vlad accepts and Verra promptly returns him from her domain back to the real world.

Vlad and his wife Cawti’s relationship is still strained and Vlad is actually glad to have something else to think about. He leaves quickly to Greenaere by ship. Greenaere is quite different from the Empire because sorcery doesn’t work there. However, the mental connection between Vlad and his familiar Loiosh seems to be working normally. Also, the Dragaeran there don’t have a House system like the one in the Empire. This was interesting and I would have liked to see more of their society.

Vlad skulks around for a day and after that he successfully kills the king. However, during his escape he’s wounded and so incapable of running very far. He meets an absent-minded drummer just before he passes out. Aibynn the drummer nurses him for a day but in the end the royal guards capture both of them.

Vlad is thrown to prison and so is Aibynn who is thought to be his accomplish. They languish some days in their cell before they are rescued by Cawti, Aliera, and Morrolan. That is, of course, only the start of Vlad’s troubles. His wife is part of a group that wants to overthrow the government, Greenaere declares war on the Empire, and Vlad’s bosses are starting to get nervous because of what Cawti is doing and because Vlad own the criminal activity in the increasing unstable area of South Adrilankha where the would-be-rebels live. Soon enough Cawti is arrested and Vlad has to decide what he’s ready to do to get her out. This requires, of course, doing the unexpected.

Some of the most important people in Vlad’s life, his grandfather and Cawti, have told him that they don’t approve of Vlad’s life as an assassin and this is starting to affect Vlad. He starts to think about what he does and why and what else he could do. There’s also some talk about gods and how the Dragaerans see them.

Both food and music make a stronger appearance in this book than in the previous ones. This is also the book where the black Phoenix stones first appear.

I’m always interested in different cultures and the Empire has at least eighteen of them inside its borders: “To a Dzurlord, civilized means adhering to proper customs of dueling. To a Dragonlord, civilized means conforming to all the social niceties of mass mayhem. To a Yendi, civilized means making sure no one ever knows exactly what you’re up to. In the land of my ancestors, civilized means never drinking a red wine at more than fifty-five or less than fifty degrees.” And to a Greenaere Dragaeran civilized means not torturing their prisoners.

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