December 27, 2003

Teckla, by Steven Brust

Man, I hate this book.

It's not that it's badly written. It isn't. If it were badly written, I wouldn't hate it so much.

This is the third volume in Brust's "Vlad Taltos" series. We saw something of Vlad's "normal" life in the first volume, Jhereg, and something of how he got there in the second volume, Yendi. As the book begins, Vlad is one happy camper. He's got a good job, he's reasonably affluent, he's got the respect of his peers, he has some powerful friends outside of the Jhereg, and above all he's got a beloved wife.

Until she married Vlad, Cawti was a freelance assassin for the Jhereg, working as one half of a team. Her partner retired due to the events in the previous book, and though Cawti has "worked" occasionally since then she's mostly had a lot of time on her hands. Consequently, she's been spending a fair amount of time in South Adrilankha, where (unlike she and Vlad) most "Easterners" in the city live in squalor and poverty. She's made some new friends there--friends who are convinced it is time for the Easterners and the Teckla (the Dragaeran peasantry) to band together, rise up, and take over the Empire. More over, she's come to agree with them, body and soul.

When Vlad discovers what she's been up to, he is not best pleased. Nor is he pleased when she begins to question his livelihood, both as a Jhereg boss and as an assassin. What follows is a detailed portrait of a loving marriage going straight to hell.

I hate that a whole lot.

It's especially painful because even as I identify with Vlad, I have to admit that on most counts Cawti is right. Assassination really isn't a good way to make a living. Easterners and Teckla really are fairly well down-trodden.

At the same time, Vlad knows that any such attempt at revolt is doomed. In the Dragaeran Empire, the ruling house can only be succeeded by the house that follows it in the Cycle. Empress Zerika is of the House of the Phoenix; it's well known that her successor will be of the House of the Dragon. The House of the Teckla is halfway around the Cycle, and so Cawti's rebel friends have about as much chance at succeeding as your average Christmas fruitcake does of getting eaten. I might add that this isn't simply political theory; in Dragaera, the Cycle has pretty much the same force as physical law, and Vlad, for reasons we do not discover until the next book, has a better reason to know this than even most Dragaerans do.

So Vlad's in a real bind. Knowing what he does, he can't bring himself to buy into Cawti's new political views. On the one hand, he wants to save his marriage; on the other, he wants to prevent Cawti from getting herself killed. It's not at all clear that he can do both. Meanwhile, revolution is bad for business; his Jhereg superiors aren't happy with Cawti's activities.

Teckla is an ugly, unhappy, unpleasant book, and unfortunately it's also the hinge upon which the rest of the series turns.

Bottom-line: if you read Jhereg and Yendi, and you like them, read this one and get it out of the way. Then you can go on to Taltos, which is a lot more fun.

Posted by Will Duquette at December 27, 2003 10:01 PM