December 23, 2003

Yendi, by Steven Brust

This is the second book in Brust's "Vlad Taltos" series. Having introduced the major characters (Vlad; his wife Cawti; his lieutenant, Kragar; Dragonlords Morrolan e'Drien and Aliera e'Kieron; and Sethra Lavode) in the previous book, Brust now proceeds to tell us how Vlad first came to be a mob boss for House Jhereg, and about some of his early challenges.

As the book opens, Vlad is informed that the Jhereg boss from the neighboring territory has just opened a gambling den in Vlad's area. Vlad brings his crew to shut it down, and so begins a war that will quite literally rock the Empire. Vlad even gets killed at one point-- by a pair of elite assassins known as the "Sword and Dagger of the Jhereg", it's quite an honor really--and after Sethra Lavode and Aliera revivify him he's inclined take it as such. Especially since the Dagger of the Jhereg is a pretty little Easterner named Cawti.

Aliera and company are more interested in Cawti's partner Norathar--and it begins to seem that there's more going on in Vlad's little war than internal Jhereg politics.

A word about the names of these books. The Dragaeran Empire is made up of two kinds of people: humans like Vlad, and Dragaerans, like Morrolan and company. But there are in fact seventeen distinct Dragaeran races--the Seventeen Houses of the Empire. Each house has its own distinct characteristics and traits, and is named after an animal that typifies those traits. Sixteen of the houses are considered "noble"; the seventeenth, the House of the Teckla, is the largest and constitutes the peasantry. There is little crossbreeding between the houses; half-breeds, having no proper house of their own, are ostracized. The few such that there are can join the Teckla, swearing allegiance to some noble, or they can buy their way into the Jhereg. Even Easterners can buy their way into the Jhereg, which is how Vlad's father got in. That is, in fact, how House Jhereg got started--as an accumulation of outcasts from all of the other houses.

For what it's worth, a jhereg is a winged lizard, rather like a small dragon. Jheregs are about the house of hawks or falcons, and like them are scavengers.

Now, the yendi is a kind of snake, and members of House Yendi are known for cold, calculating, and devious. It is axiomatic that a Yendi's schemes are too subtle for anyone but a Yendi to comprehend. And if I didn't mention a single Yendi in the above plot summary, it just goes to show that the book is aptly titled.

Posted by Will Duquette at December 23, 2003 07:37 PM