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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Book of Jhereg

Like so many authors, I’d heard of Steven Brust and his “Vlad Taltos” series for years before actually getting around to reading it. I am very slow about these things. Fortunately, in this case, my friend Jason just showed up and put it in my hand. Since I’m moving in a few days, I felt obliged to finish the book before I left my current abode, and so, here we are.

The particular book that Jason lent me is, in fact, an omnibus of the first three Vlad Taltos novels, Jhereg, Yedni, and Teckla.

There are some common truths to all three novels; they are, on the surface, fantasy novels (though there’s a science fiction veneer behind it all that gets revealed relatively quickly). They all focus on Vlad Taltos, a human living in the Dragaeran Empire, where humans are second-class citizens to the longer-lived and generally more powerful Dragaerans. They all generally involve Vlad, who is a professional assassin and criminal, getting caught up in a larger conspiracy or event of some sort, and dealing with the fallout of that. There are a variety of secondary characters that flit in and out of the series.

All three novels are written in the first person, from Vlad’s point of view. Brust gives Vlad a very unique and memorable voice, and if Vlad’s sarcasm sometimes gets to be a bit much, it is offset by some truly touching moments of honesty. Brust uses Vlad’s voice, and his interaction with the other characters, to carefully reveal the world that he’s built, always giving enough information to make the reader understand what’s happening, without digressing into what amounts to fake history lesson. My only complaint is that I still don’t know what a Yendi or Teckla actually are, though Jo Walton seems to. Not sure how she or other people figured it out.

Interestingly, the novels are not sequential. Jhereg clearly takes place earlier in time than Yendi (which ends up being kind of an “origin story” of sorts), while Teckla follows very shortly behind events of Jhereg. This is all part of Brust’s much larger “plan”, I’m told. All three novels work fine as stand-alone works, however, in keeping with Stackpoles’ Law.

Of the three, I think I enjoyed Jhereg the most. It’s got a nice mixture of tension, intrigue, mystery, and revelation without going overboard on any of them. Yendi was a lot of fun too, though I remember it being “lighter” for no good reason. Probably because of the love story, which would seem less plausible if it hadn’t been foreshadowed in Jhereg. Teckla is very, very, well written, but I had a very hard time reading it. It includes a huge amount of marital stress as an integral part of the plot, and I just don’t handle reading about that stuff very well. That’s totally a personal issue—Brust writes the relationship, and the tension, brilliantly. I just hate reading about it.

Definitely a fantasy series worth reading.