December 20, 2003

Jhereg, by Steven Brust

When I get caught up in a project, as I have been for some time, I naturally gravitate toward old favorites--books that I know I'll enjoy, and that I know I won't have to work at getting into because they are already familiar. If I then get sick, as I did this week, the acceleration of gravity doubles or triples. Which explains why I've re-read Brust's entire "Vlad Taltos" series since Tuesday--nine books, all that currently exist, though ultimately the series is expected to run to exactly double that.

And though--as I'm caught up in a project, and as I'm still getting over being sick--it would be easy to tie all nine books up in a short bundle of prose and say, "Go read them," I'm not going to do that. Instead, I'm going to attempt to handle each book individually, and convey a little of the flavor of each one.

Jhereg is the first of the series as they were originally published (though not the first chronologically; as with the Narnia books, I find it best to follow the publication order rather than the internal chronology).

Jhereg introduces us to one Vlad Taltos: mobster; assassin; gourmet chef; master swordsman (in the Eastern style); witch. Vlad lives in Adrilankha, the capital city of the Dragaeran Empire, where he's a minor but successful mob boss. In addition to managing his territory, he's also security consultant to Lord Morrolan of the House of the Dragon. And a minor disaster has arisen which brings these two worlds into conflict.

In the Dragaeran Empire, organized crime is the province of the House of the Jhereg. And it seems that a highly placed member of the house has absconded with most of the house funds--and taken refuge with Lord Morrolan, who has offered him 17 days of sanctuary. For business reasons, the thief has to be killed ASAP, but Morrolan has sworn an oath that the lives of his guests are sacred. Guess who gets the job of performing the hit?

Vlad's a witty (if unreliable) narrator, and Dragaera is an interesting blend of hardboiled detective fiction with the traditional sword-and-sorcery milieu, with perhaps a dash of Monty Python thrown in. I confess, Jhereg took me a while to get into the first time I read it, partially because Vlad doesn't explain much at first, and partially because the book is set in the middle of Vlad's story, just before his life is about to take an abrupt left turn. On the other hand, the book introduces not only Vlad but also many of the other continuing characters: Morrolan, witch and wizard both, who has been known to sacrifice entire villages to his goddess, and who also maintains a twenty-four-hour-a-day cocktail party; his fiery cousin Aliera, Dragon-Heir to the throne, who's inclined to kill first and ask questions later--literally; Sethra Lavode, the undead Enchantress of Dzur Mountain; Cawti, Vlad's wife; Kragar, his lieutenant; and, of course, Loiosh, Vlad's sarcastic familiar.

Posted by Will Duquette at December 20, 2003 08:01 PM

Deb said:

I got the first three books of this series in a single volume for the son to read on the plane. I may pick it up when he is done, after I finish the O'Brian series, of course