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Monday, June 12, 2006

The Book of Jhereg by Steven Brust

This is actually an omnibus--a collection of the first three Vlad Taltos novels. I'd read one--can't remember which one at the moment--years ago, on the recommendation of someone who'd told me it was a vampire series. Which confused the heck out of me, and I didn't really know what to think about the book. I liked the voice, but it really messes with your enjoyment of a book when you're expecting one thing and get another; when you're waiting for something to happen that never does. Say you're told that a book is a murder mystery: you're reading along, enjoying the story, but part of you is holding back, waiting for the murder, so the real story can begin. It was like that.

So I decided I really ought to start the series from the beginning, and bought the omnibus. It's been sitting in my TBR pile for quite a while, because I still had that vague dissatisfied feeling in my mind from the first one I'd read.

***** Jhereg by Steven Brust. Fantasy.

Wow. Why haven't I been reading these all along? It's one of those reactions. A book that just fits so well that it could have been written specifically for me. I love the voice, the style, the characters. Vlad Taltos is a human, living among people whose lifespans are 50 - 100 times his. But he holds his own because of his wits and the skills he's developed as an assassin. As a character, he's somewhat of a cross between Tavi and Harry Dresden, which pretty much guarantees I'll love him.

In Jhereg, he's hired to kill an embezzler. If Vlad doesn't kill him, the house of Jhereg will be destroyed. But if he does, he himself will be killed. It's even more complex when the embezzler takes refuge in a place where killing him would set off a war.

Like I said, it's as if it were written specifically for me. I love mental puzzles, and intrigue, and hidden motives... and characters who succeed by being smart and well-trained rather than just having lots of powers. The dry wit and sarcasm clinch the deal.

***** Yendi by Steven Brust. Fantasy.

This takes place before Jhereg, and is the story in which Vlad Taltos meets his wife Cawti, who's been hired to kill him as part of a war for territory. As in Jhereg, everything is not as it seems, and there are plots and hidden motives, and intrigue up the wazoo.

I also noticed yet another way in which this series was written specifically for me--in the negative reviews on Amazon, the thing most people who didn't like the book complained about was the lack of description and scenery. Bingo. Nine times out of ten, I couldn't care less about description, and if an author gives me too much of it, I just skim it.

***** Teckla by Steven Brust. Fantasy.

And the bar is raised. Not only is there intrigue and wit and clever solutions--now there's emotional depth, as Vlad's wife's involvement in a revolutionary group threatens both their lives and their relationship, and has Vlad questioning his profession.

There were no easy answers, no out-of-character changes in attitude. No infallible or super-wise characters, either.

My email signature quote yesterday was this:
Steven Brust's First Theory: "All literature consists of whatever the writer thinks is cool. The reader will like the book to the degree that he agrees with the writer about what's cool."
I know I mentioned it before, when I'd been reading a book from his Phoenix Guards series, but I definitely agree with Steven Brust about what's cool.


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