Steven Brust's IORICH: sword and sorcery and law and order

I've written before about Steven Brust's delightful, epic Vlad Taltos novels, a long-running series of sword-and-sorcery novels about a wisecracking human assassin in a land where the ruling class is composed of ancient, long-lived elves from a variety of noble houses named for animals. Brust has turned out a dozen of these novels to date (plus five more books in the style of Dumas, set centuries before the Vlad books), and they are, to a one, absolutely cracking yarns, Fritz Leiberesque novels where the steel flashes, the spells swirl, death is dealt, heroism is on display, and cunning saves the day.

But Brust's novels are also, to a one more than just fantasy novels. Each one is also a meditation on power, on freedom, on fairness, on economics -- even on cooking. And Brust doesn't use the action to sugar-coat the "message" -- no, the message, such as it is, is integral to the action revealed through it, naturally and engrossingly, so that each book is an education unto itself.

Take Iorich, the latest book, published last week. Iorich has the exiled Vlad Taltos returning to the capital city -- where he is a hunted man -- to rescue a friend from prison. And while Vlad has to do plenty of fighting and sneaking and skulking to get her out, the main method he employs is to use the law. And so Brust is able to skilfully blend a remarkable treatise on politics, law, justice, due process and even military ethics into a novel in which there is enough sword and sorcery to fill a dozen Vallejo paintings.

There are 17 noble houses in Dragaera, and so far, we've had books name for the first 12. I'm hoping that that means that there's at least five more to come. I've been reading these since I was a kid, and they've been fine companions all my life.


All the Vlad Taltos books


  1. There are supposed to be seven more Vlad Taltos books to come — the six (not five) remaining houses, and one called The Final Contract to conclude the series.

    A couple of other very small factual corrections. There are five prequels in the style of Dumas, not six, and they’re set between one millennium and a few hundred years before Vlad’s time, not “millennia”.

  2. Second the recommendation. The Taltos (pronounced Taltosh) series starts in the same place as many fantasies — an interesting magic-based culture as seen from its underworld — but there’s a very deep backstory behind that culture and intensive political infighting, both of which become increasingly important as the story progresses. Vlad may be the most sympathetic wisecracking assassin you’ll ever meet, and — of course — over time he develops into much more than that.

    This series is actually set in the same world as Brokedown Palace — a story anchored in Hungarian mythos, I believe — though the two don’t overlap much.

    And I should warn folks that while the Khaavren Romances trilogy is, in fact, part of the backstory for the Taltos books, they are written in a completely different style. In those, Brust is deliberately parodying the Three Musketeers books, and writing in a rather stilted and somewhat archaic style as a result. (He attributes that to the fact that his narrator — the supposed author of the book — is a fussy archivist writing in the style of his day.) My reaction to those was that I don’t like that style and found it something of an annoyance — but his storytelling was good enough, and I had enough interest in where some of the characters in the Taltos books had come from, that he held me anyway. Something of a writing tour de force, akin to writing an unsympathetic character and then making the reader sympathize anyway. But I wouldn’t recommend the Khaarven trilogy except to folks who have read Taltos and want to know more about the world, or those who have read the Three Musketeers books and will appreciate how he plays upon them.

    But let’s be honest, I’ll read anything Brust writes. He’s good. Darned good. And the Taltos series is a great place to start.

  3. Don’t forget Brokedown Palace.

    Wonderful books, all of them. Savory.

    Rereading the last few to remember where we last left the main character, Loiosh, I was suddenly struck by the realization that, to the giant “elfs”, Vlad is basically a mafioso hobbit.

  4. After progressing from reading library paperbacks, to buying them, to buying the hardbacks because I can’t wait, to pre-ordering Jeghaala on Amazon before it was even published, I have been trying not to go nuts waiting for the next Vlad title.

    I haven’t read this post or any of the comments for fear of spoilers, just wanted to say THANKS CORY!!!! for letting me know it’s time to rush out and get Iorich.

    PS: I buy all your books too – I don’t like to read novels on-line, I like to read in a comfy recliner or rocking chair with a frosty barley-pop at hand.

  5. Brust’s Taltos is the only series I’ve ever read with a real character arc. The protagonist actually grows up over the course of a few books.

    Also, don’t forget “Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille” and “To Reign in Hell” – both quite good.

  6. I loved the Dumas style prequel even better than the Vlad Taltos series. I laughed, I cried, I laughed some more. I’ll read this as eagerly as I do all his other books.

  7. And Orca is rather topical lately — it’s all about the bank bailouts despite being written in 1996.

  8. Slightly different perspective here: I adored the first four or five Vlad Taltos novels and _Brokedown Palace_ is an all-time favorite. But the series bogged down with _Teckla_, and reading _Orca_ was drudgery. Last summer’s _Jhegaala_ does not promise a return to the tone and pacing of the originals.

    Oh, and _Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grill_? If it had been the first Brust novel I read, it would have been the only one.

    1. For me, it *was*, and consequently remains the only Brust novel I’ve read. With a recommendation like this, though, I’d pickup the Taltos novels right now — were they only on the Kindle.

  9. Steve@6: try Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan series for a lifetime of character development. They’re wonderful, though the question of what order to read them in is as complicated as it is for Steven’s books!

    (I’m not sure who does it better; I love both authors’ books, and they’re very different. These two are the ones that come to mind for long-term character development, so I thought I’d mention the other one to you :-). )

    Oh, and outside the genre, there are the Patrick O’Brian books (Aubrey / Maturin series), of course.

  10. When I met him at a local con some years back, I made a point of thanking him for inventing Vlad and Kragar.

    I must remember to thank him for Lady Teldra as well, at should I meet him again.

  11. There’s a scene in The Phoenix Guards that retells, from a different point of view, a scene from Brokedown Palace.

  12. You should mention that the Dragaerans/elves are NOT your traditional “elves” in a fantasy sense. In fact the only person who really calls them elves is Vlad’s grandfather. Otherwise, they are simply the dominant sentient species (where species may actually be a plural) of this world, so take them as they are presented without preconceptions about elves.

  13. Contrary to the opinions of others, I actually *liked* Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grill. Like all of Brust’s novels, I notice something new every time I re-read it (and have at least 3-4 times over the years). I found the characters believeable, as they resemble many people I’ve met in real life with similar problems arising out of drugs, alcohol, abuse, dependency, etc… Granted, some of the action was a bit ridiculous, but the way Brust spins the story is ever so much his style. Some have accused him of ripping off Spider Robinson (Callahan’s Place), Cowboy Feng’s is different in so many ways.

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