Title: The Paths of the Dead
Author: Steven Brust
Series: Khaavren Romances #3 (The Viscount of Adrilankha #1)
The country has changed much since Adron’s Disaster banished the Orb and collapsed the Empire. Khaavren, formerly Captain of the Phoenix Guards, has sunk into a deep depression. But his son, Piro, and others born during the Interregnum, look to the future with more hope. They long for adventure. And when Piro receives a mysterious summons, it looks like adventure has finally found him.
The first and most important thing to know about this book is that it is (as the introduction mentions briefly) basically the first chunk of a longer work. Don’t look at this like a standalone book, because then all the loose ends and unimportant threads will just be frustrating.
So in that light I almost don’t want to review this until I’ve read the others. I like Morrolan’s segments, since I know him from the Vlad Taltos books, and it’s really funny to see Morrolan as a youngster, ignorant of so many of the things he’d later be famous for. But in terms of this book, his plot segments are built up initially as important (given he’s the first character of the book), but then the book as a whole mostly ignores him, and it doesn’t even provide a resolution to the minor plot point for the Easterners he wants to kill.
Similarly, the two girls traveling to Adrilankha have even less impact on the story as a whole, although they look to be important perhaps in the next book.
Piro’s journey to the titular Paths of the Dead is (eventually) the main plotline. The Orb Sethra hid in the Paths of the Dead in the previous book (Five Hundred Years After) needs to be brought out again, and once the Orb is safe, then the Empire can be rebuilt. Although a certain Dragonlord has decided to attempt that rebuilding himself.
The humor is still pretty good. Below is one of my favorite exchanges in the book, a conversation between Sethra and Sethra the Younger:
“I mean that our friend,” here she indicated the necromancer, “treats as matters of simple practicality what others consider as most abstruse theory.”
“I do not understand what you do the honor to tell me, Sethra.”
“Well, then, Sethra, permit me to explain.”
“I will be delighted if you would do so.”
“I am about to.”
“I am listening.”
The Enchantress then turned to the necromancer and said, “Have you observed that I am undead?”
The necromancer shrugged as if it was of no importance and said, “Of course.”
“Well, what then is your opinion of death?”
“It is the limitation of one’s ability to reach certain phases of reality.”
“It can sometimes be inconvenient.”
All in all, I would suggest only reading this if you want to commit to the entire trilogy, as they’re basically just one book. If you’re new to Brust, you may want to back up and start at The Phoenix Guards or even Five Hundred Years After, to get more context for this book. I rate this book Recommended.