Title: The Phoenix Guards
Author: Steven Brust
Series: Khaavren Romances #1
Khaavren is a young Tiassa noble (though not, it must be understood, very well off) who aspires to make a name for himself by joining the Phoenix Guard. Along with some friends he happens to meet along the way, Khaavren serves happily. Then a chance to win some acclaim launches him into a confusing spiral of intrigues.
This is set in the same world as the Vlad Taltos books, although centuries earlier. Accordingly, the book is written as a “historical fiction” about Khaavren’s humble origins and his first years in the Phoenix Guards. This involves much more ornate language and generally feels like a historical novel. I liked the technique, but as a novel it certainly wasn’t easier to get through with all the extra chattering by the narrator (the book even has a passage where the narrator expounds for an entire paragraph on the virtues of brevity).
It was interesting to see the regression in sorcery, and how everything functions more like a typical fantasy society because of it: horses for travel instead of teleports, messages sent by letter instead of psionics, and spells as tedious affairs hardly even practiced by sorcerers because of their limited effects. The worldbuilding is still strong. Khaavren is the outsider, so we get to see a lot of the Imperial Palace (a place that doesn’t even exist in Vlad’s day, or at least not that building) and the factions vying for the death (or saving) of a particular artist who killed a thoughtless critic.
Overall the slower pace and anachronistic language are likely to turn off some readers, but the actual mystery unfolds well and humor pops up throughout. I rate this book Recommended.