Issola (Vlad Taltos #9)

Title: Issola

Author: Steven Brust

Series: Vlad Taltos #9

Vlad has lost almost everything. Living in the wilderness to avoid the price on his head, he’s shocked when Lady Teldra finds him. And the message she bears is even worse. Morrolan and Aliera have disappeared without a trace, which implies culprits beyond anything Vlad has faced before, as the two had been well-defended against normal attack. Now Vlad once again finds himself in well over his head, making things worse . . .

One thing I really like about these books is how well the various powers and personalities fit in together. Vlad is the weakest of his group of friends by almost any measure. As an Easterner, he’s got a mere human lifespan compared to the thousands of years the Dragaerans live. As a magic-worker, he’s a somewhat competent sorcerer to their expert, though he may have a bit of an edge in witchcraft, which doesn’t work the same way at all. Even as a fighter, since his specialty is assassination, he’s more set up for surprise attacks and sudden violence rather than a prolonged fight. But he’s clever, and has a twisted way of thinking, and can do a few things that no one else can (or will dare). So although he’s personally very unhappy about being in the rescue team, he’s an irreplaceable part.

Another thing of note is the particular rumination that tends to span most of the story. In this book it’s about the role of courtesy. Vlad, grating as he is, assumes he has none, whereas Lady Teldra has a positive genius for it. Their conversations about the topic support the story in interesting ways.

It’s also interesting to see these characters continuing to develop. Vlad is changing, I think, although it’s harder to see because he’s narrating and doesn’t see it himself. But the story digs deeper into Morrolan, Aliera, Sethra, and of course Lady Teldra. I liked seeing Lady Teldra’s enigmatic personality up close. Elegant, graceful, but like the issola her House was named for, far more than just a pretty face.

I am again reading these completely out of order, because it’s what I happen to have available, but the story does a good job of not relying too heavily on what came before. Vlad isn’t terribly talkative about his own past in any case, and the little hints and references he makes tend to come off as digressions that he’ll cut off in order to get back to the current story. So although I’m certainly curious how he got from where I last read him to here, that’s no impediment to enjoying the story.

At any rate, I’m now a bit torn which direction to keep reading, since I both want to fill in the gaps as well as see what happened next. Because that end neatly fulfilled some much earlier hints from previous books, and it will be fascinating to see what Vlad does from here out. But I’d also dearly like to know how Vlad lost everything he’d worked so hard to get. I rate this book Recommended.

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