Hawk, the 14th book in Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos series, is a moving, funny and tantalizing end-game glimpse of the assassin, reluctant revolutionary and epic wisecracker. Cory Doctorow explains why he's been reading this generation-spanning series of Hungarian mythology, revolutionary politics, and gastronomy for more than 30 years.

I have been reading the Vlad Taltos books all my life, have literally grown up with them, and eagerly await each new volume, counting the years while Brust finishes it. He claims he knows where it's all going — has known, in fact, since the first book — and there's ample evidence for that, because if there's one word I'd use to describe these, it'd be "premeditated" — in a good way.

That's because each volume of this series is, first and foremost, a caper story. Even the ones where Vlad lies dying on a cave floor for the whole book. Brust is one of those natural caper writers (as is amply evidenced in The Incrementalists, his wonderful collaboration with Skyler White), a pulp writer in the Hammett tradition, someone with what William Gibson calls "wheels on his tractor." In other words, a writer who can spin a yarn that keeps you guessing until the end, aware of many precise moving parts all meshing in synchrony to drive a magnificent jeweled watch of a story.

Even better, Brust uses those marvellous plots to tell even more marvellous stories, full of delightful and gorgeously flawed characters whose mistakes are both inevitable and horrible, and whose victories are improbable, partial, fraught and deeply satisfying. Brust writes people you want to root for, even though they probably won't succeed (after all, who succeeds in the long run?).

Hawk picks up the action from 2009's Jhegaala (2011's Tiassa was a kind of delightful interlude), with Vlad returned to the great city of Adrilankha, where the Jhereg crime-guild — whom he betrayed — has a price on his head, and where Cawti, his ex-wife, is raising their son, whose existence Vlad has only just discovered.

These are two seemingly irreconcilable facts: a son that Vlad wants to be around, and a city where he is a dead man walking. There's only one way to resolve it, and that's to find a way to buy off, intimidate, or otherwise manipulate the Jhereg into forgiving him for committing the cardinal sin of betraying them to the authorities (without dying first). What follows is one of those jeweled Brustian timepieces of a caper, with Vlad setting in motion all sorts of intricate plots and schemes that guess, second-guess and third-guess his adversaries (often incorrectly), building to the kind of climax that you get out of a really satisfying Leverage episode or, more aptly, The Sting (read an excerpt on Tor.com for a sense of the story's great feel and rhythm).

If you haven't read the Vlad books, you should, seriously. Start with The Book of Jhereg (collects the first three Vlad Taltos novels), and by the time you catch up with Hawk, with any luck we'll be one or two books closer to the conclusion we've waited for since the last century.


The Book of Jhereg (collects the first three Vlad Taltos novels)

All the Vlad Taltos books

-Cory Doctorow