January 02, 2004

Orca, by Steven Brust

The seventh book in Brust's "Vlad Taltos" series has yet another twist on the "unreliable narrator" idea. With the exception of Athyra Vlad's been narrating them, and there are tantalizing hints in one or two of the books about his having to tell his story to a metal box. It's not at all clear just who the metal box belongs to, or why Vlad's agreed to talk to it; in particular, I don't know whether the box is just a conceit to explain how Brust got the story to begin with, or whether there's something deeper going on. (There are hints in Brust's "Khaavren" books that their "author", Sir Paarfi of Roundwood, has had some kind of dealings with Mr. Brust.)

But Orca does something completely different. Orca picks up some time after Athyra; Vlad is seeking help for a Teckla boy who was injured saving his life, and he's called upon his old friend Kiera the Thief to help him. And here's the trick: most of the book is narrated not by Vlad, but by Kiera. And even the sections that Vlad narrates are apparently based on Kiera's remembrance of how he narrated them to her. Moreover, some third-person interludes make it clear that she's not relating the tale to some old metal box, but rather to Vlad's estranged wife, Cawti--although apparently we the reader (whoever we are in the grand scheme of things) are privy to certain bits of information Kiera's not passing along to Cawti.

That's right--we're hearing about Vlad's experiences through not one but two levels of unreliable narration.

The plot in this particular volume is fairly pedestrian. A wisewoman might be able to help Vlad's young Teckla; in return, she wants to keep her house, which has recently been foreclosed on. Vlad and Kiera investigate, and find their way into a financial scandal that could rock the Empire. Ho. Hum. But it's a good read nevertheless, not least because it's the first time we get to see Vlad and Kiera interact for any length of time, and because (as in Athyra) we get to see Vlad through the eyes of another.

Oh, and there are Important Revelations. More than that I shall not say.

Posted by Will Duquette at January 2, 2004 08:37 PM

Deb said:

I found the end to this one slightly unsatisfying. After going thru all this, is the kid going to be ok or not? Or are we being set up for something to happen later.