Steven Brust's "Good Guys," a hardboiled noir urban fantasy, with everything great about Brust on proud display
Yesterday, I reviewed "What Makes This Book So Great", a collection of Jo Walton's brilliant book-reviews from Tor.com. Today, Tor editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden has posted his essay on the book, entitled "What Makes Jo Walton So Great." It's a tremendous read, and a great frame for the book, which is flat-out great. Read the rest
Steven Brust's Tiassa is the thirteenth volume in the long-running Vlad Taltos series, a fantasy epic that combines hard-boiled crime-writing with economic critique, revolutionary war, fine cookery, and (naturally) swashbuckling sword and sorcery. Vlad Taltos is an Easterner (a human like us) among Drageareans (immortal, magical faerie folk who belong to one of several noble "houses" that influence their character and profession). At the series' start, Vlad is an assassin within the Jhereg house (which controls the crime in Brust's world), working through his fury and shame at having grown up in the Easterner underclass by killing Dragareans with gusto. Over the series' many volumes, Vlad gets entangled in revolutionary politics, is married and divorced, meddles in the affairs of the empire, dies and is brought back from the dead, and more. Brust clearly delights in writing this character and this world, and each volume has some clever structural trick that enhances the story -- for example, previous volumes have been organized around explaining the items listed on a laundry ticket and the dishes served on an elaborate menu.
Tiassa is structured in three novellas, spanning ten years of Vlad's life, with some interstitial matter. The first novella, "Tag," is a caper story set in the early part of the series and is told in the Chandleresque, hard-boiled style that characterized the first few books. The middle novella, "Whitecrest," is a story of political intrigue set during Vlad's exile, told with expert timing and a lot of wit. The final novella, "Special Tasks" is told in the style of The Phoenix Guards and its sequels, a highly mannered, absurdist adventure story in the mode of Alexander Dumas. Read the rest
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. Read the rest
For the uninitiated, Vlad Taltos is a human assassin in a strange world where humans occupy the eastern kingdoms and the rest is run by the Dragaereans, a long-lived elfin race whose sorcery is far more formalized than humanity's witchcraft (the human culture on Dragaera is based loosely on ancient Hungarian culture, and the magic is derived somewhat from Hungarian animist mysticism). Vlad lives among the Dragaera, pledged to the house of Jhereg, a mongrel house that you can buy your way into (the others are hereditary), whence come all the crime lords and assassins. In Vlad's storied, ten-volume adventures, he goes from street-punk to crime-boss to lordling to political operative, embroiled in a magnificently realized fantasy world that leaps off the page with a fascinating poleconomy, literary tradition, spirituality and history ancient and modern.
Vlad is a hard-boiled, wise-ass hero, whose narration is part of what makes the series so irresistible, laden as it is with deadpan humor, great observation, wicked emotional truths, and a keen gourmet sensibility (seriously: the food and drink in this book are so well described that I spent the entire time while reading it yearning for one of the marvellous cups of coffee or the hearty bowls of stew that Vlad subsists on through much of the tale). Read the rest
Over the weekend, I finished Dzur, the latest volume of Steven Brust's snappy, swashbuckling heroic fantasy novels about Vlad Taltos and the world of Dragaera. I've been reading these since I was an adolescent, and I feel like they've grown up with me.
The Vlad Taltos books tell the story of a human assassin in a magic, Zelazny-esque world where animal-like, near-immortal faerie folk are the dominant political and economic force. Humans (called "Easterners") live in ghettos and are used as peasants, cannon fodder, and punching-bags. Vlad starts out in the first novel, Jhereg, as a kitchen-boy who finds better employment as an enforcer for an organized crime syndicate, loving the work because it lets him beat up Dragaerans.
As the series progresses (it's up to book 10 now), Vlad rises to become a crime-boss, then a force in the empire, then an exile. Brust uses this rise and fall to show us his extraordinary grasp of the subtleties of the economics and social factors underpinning feudal states, stripping away the whitewash that lurks behind the Shire, Arthur and his knights, and every other narrative of noble kings and willing peasants.
With Dzur, we have something of a return to the classic Vlad Taltos book -- Vlad, lately returned from exile, is wanted by the entire Jhereg (the crime syndicate) and must execute a plan to save himself and his ex-wife from its grasp, but without the benefit of his old gang and influence. Vlad's approach to this is cunning, surprising, and buckles a crapload of swash. Read the rest