Monthly Archives: November 2016

Jhegaala (Vlad Taltos #11)

Title: Jhegaala

Author: Steven Brust

Series: Vlad Taltos #11

Since being the Jhereg’s top Most Wanted hasn’t done much for his career prospects, Vlad Taltos has made a quick exit from Dragaera City. He figures he’ll try to hunt down his relatives back East, where Dragaerans stand out and hopefully Jhereg will too. Except that the little town of Burz and its paper mill are hiding secrets, and just his presence has started making some people very uncomfortable . . .

This is again more of a mystery, although a more frustrating one than Orca, because Vlad doesn’t even have Kiera to help him out. He’s stuck trying to break into a closed circuit of Easterners—and as he admits near the end, they can work against him a little too well. It’s also a little sad that he isn’t able to directly inflict much of the violence, as watching Vlad in action is one of the highlights of the books.

Still, watching him orchestrate the ending even given his position is rather fun.

Overall this wasn’t exactly what I had expected when Vlad went back East, but it’s still a good continuation of his story. I rate this book Recommended.

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Dzur (Vlad Taltos #10)

Title: Dzur

Author: Steven Brust

Series: Vlad Taltos #10

Vlad has gone back to his old territory in Adrilankha. Things aren’t quite how he left them, or how he expected it to go. Cawti’s having trouble keeping the Jhereg out of her area, since she won’t run an organization like Vlad had. And she’s not one to ask for help, even if Vlad would drop everything for her, forgetting the price on his own head, to do it. He’s just going to have to take care of things himself, in his own way, like he always does . . .

Picking up only a few hours after Issola, this wastes no time dumping Vlad right back into trouble. I was amused at the extended metaphor in this book: cooking and murder. A perfect meal, compared and contrasted to those things needed to make a kill. And a several-course meal that sounds amazing, so have at least a snack on hand.

Vlad also has some of the best humor I’ve read so far in this book, and several quotes I like.

“It’s easy to consider everyone a sucker who cares about things you don’t care about. So who does that make the sucker?”

And of course Loish has several great conversations:

“Boss, you know you’re a bully.”
“Yeah.”
“And worse, you enjoy it.”
“Yeah.”
“You’ve missed being a bully all these years.”
“Yeah.”
“I’m proud to know you.”

And several situations I refuse to spoil because they’re just too funny walking in blind. (In particular, a certain character who has been joked about previously has something of a role.)

I liked the Dzur, and the conversation Vlad has with one about heroics. It was amusing to find a people dedicated to the side of good—as long as the right side is heavily outnumbered, or hated by everyone, or otherwise has almost zero chance of winning. In other words, Vlad should probably partner up with one for the future.

All in all this series hasn’t flagged much, and I really like the direction it’s going. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Orca (Vlad Taltos #7)

Title: Orca

Author: Steven Brust

Series: Vlad Taltos #7

All Vlad is trying to do is repay his debt to Savn, who was injured in the process of saving Vlad’s life. But the healer he finds doesn’t want money—she wants the right to continue living in her own home, which the failing bank is trying to foreclose. So Vlad reluctantly puts himself on the case. Murder is so much more his specialty . . .

I liked this a great deal. Kiera the Thief shares the narration with Vlad this time, and shows something of a different side to the sorts of activities Vlad usually gets himself into. Vlad finds himself, this time, not as the assassin but as the detective, trying to work backwards from a death. Trying to untangle the whole sordid story that led to one little old woman being kicked out of her home.

As a mystery, it flows differently than the other books in the series, but I liked it as a change of pace. That also made some of the revelations near the end both unexpected and satisfying. Vlad’s a different person after everything he’s gone through—though still a sarcastic, hard-bitten criminal in many ways. But in the little snippets of Kiera’s retelling Cawti’s side starts to open up some too. And maybe a little of why she’s been acting the way she has comes out.

All in all this is a good continuation. I’m both amused and impressed I’ve made it through this many books in the series without my enthusiasm flagging at all. And I can’t wait to finish collecting them all so I can reread them in the proper order next time. I rate this book Recommended.

Phoenix (Vlad Taltos #5)

Title: Phoenix

Author: Steven Brust

Series: Vlad Taltos #5

Vlad Taltos is an assassin, and used to taking jobs without knowing all the details—but he’s certainly wondering why his own goddess needs to hire him for a hit. And she isn’t aiming small, either. But a job’s a job, even if this one is bound to have consequences well beyond the usual.

Although Vlad does figure out much of the reasons why by the end, I still felt this one was a bit weaker than some of the other ones I’ve read. The Demon Goddess is either lying (which didn’t seem likely) or appears to be as manageable as a particularly powerful bit of sorcery, neither of which does her much credit as a goddess. And I was a bit irritated, too, at Cawti, for not attempting to save her marriage with the same intensity Vlad is, or at least acknowledging that Vlad has put everything on the line for her. Vlad knows she’s put her cause above her marriage, but even so can’t help getting himself into worse and worse trouble to try to get her out of danger. But her love seems less committed, and she only helps out when the circumstances have nothing to do with her revolution.

In other respects, though, this is still a lot of fun. Vlad’s desperation increases as he’s trapped in physical dangers and moral quandaries with no clear way out. Even his alliance with some of the most powerful Dragaerans in the kingdom can’t fix things. And his grim humor keeps things funny, even when he’s hard-pressed.

Overall, this is still a good read, although one of the few in the series I think shouldn’t be read without having read at least one other. I rate this book Recommended.

Black Dog Short Stories II (Black Dog #2.5)

Title: Black Dog Short Stories II

Author: Rachel Neumeier

Series: Black Dog #2.5

This collection of short stories expands on a few more pieces of the Black Dog universe. The book contains four short stories and a short essay on how witches, vampires, and black dogs all fit into the universe.

The first story, Mothers and Daughters (although the interior text had it titled Mothers and Sisters) is Keziah’s backstory. As might be expected, it explains where she grew up and how her sister got her scar, and how and why they went to Dimilioc. This is the only story set before both Black Dog and Pure Magic.

Unlikely Allies follows Ezekiel as he’s out on a mission to clear up some strays. Bank Job is an amusing story about Ethan and Thaddeus as they’re out on a routine cleanup that ends up rather sideways. And the last story, A Family Visit, has Justin finally heading out to visit his grandmother.

I like all these little glimpses into the various characters, particularly Ethan and Justin. Ethan’s been in a bad place for a while, but as this story shows, he’s got a lot of skills that the strength-worshipping black dog society may not find noticeable. I particularly liked his interactions with Thaddeus, who is not at all what Ethan expects him to be.

Justin, of course, is trying to get more answers about himself and his family. And he finds them. Sort of. But I suspect the conversation that’s hinted at the end is going to be the start of the next novel, and I wish that story had run longer to cover it, as this seems the sort of event that could be the first chapter of a novel.

All in all, if you’ve been following the Black Dog universe this is a good addition. If you haven’t, it might be better to start with one of the novels, as some of the short stories will otherwise spoil a few revelations. I rate this book Recommended.

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.

Dragon (Vlad Taltos #8)

Title: Dragon

Author: Steven Brust

Series: Vlad Taltos #8

Vlad Taltos is a fairly good assassin, but he has friends who want favors, and that’s how he finds himself enlisted in Morrolan’s army. Fighting a war. Which, ironically for an assassin, is not the way he wants to go about killing people. But he’s stuck in it now, so all he can do is try to survive, and hope Morrolan’s side wins.

I didn’t like this one as much as the others I’ve read. It’s set between Taltos (#4) and Yendi (#2), and spells out what actually happened during the battle Vlad offhandedly mentions in one of the other books. Compared to some of the other books in the series, I didn’t feel like much had actually happened. The war felt like it dragged on, rather, and that the book could have been shortened a bit by cutting out some of the grind. Vlad doesn’t even really figure out that much about the sword.

That said, it still had moments. Vlad’s dark humor could still make me laugh, and it was interesting to see him building a friendship of sorts with Morrolan. If any relationship with Dragaerans might be a friendship. Morrolan manages to be both supporting and infuriating. I like how subtly different the Dragaerans are from the humans.

All in all, if you’re reading the rest of the series, you might as well pick up this one too, although I don’t think it’s as strong as the ones I’ve read so far. I rate this book Recommended.