Dzur by Steven Brust. Review by Mervi Hämäläinen
I'm very particular about reading a series in chronological order, preferably from the point of view of the main character(s). So far, I've read only three series out of order because I didn't get my hands on them in the correct order and I wanted to read them the instant I got them. The Vlad Taltos series is one of those three and I'm delighted to see a new book out.
The new Vlad Taltos book is the tenth in the series and just like all the previous books, it can be read as a stand alone. However, since most of the significant minor characters are familiar from previous books, a new reader might loose some of the subtler interaction. Old fans are treated with appearances of familiar characters and the city of Adrilankha which has a character all its own.
Dzur starts a few hours after the previous book, Issola. Despite a very high bounty on his head, Vlad is back in Adrilankha and enjoying excellent food. He is drafted into helping Cawti, his estranged wife, who is having problems with the Noble House of Jhereg, which runs all of the illegal activities in the Dragaeran society. Matters become more complicated when the Left Hand of Jhereg, a mysterious group of sorceresses, get involved. Then there are of course the numerous old enemies from Vlad's past. Even the Demon Goddess Verra seems to have plans for Vlad; she has suppressed some of his memories and now they are coming back. Vlad is not happy.
Dzur has a complex mystery plot and revealing anything more would be robbing the reader's enjoyment of it. As is typical for Brust, the book's structure isn't a linear one. In the first chapter, Vlad is eating at the famous Valabar's restaurant. He is introduced to a new Dragaeran, a Dzur called Telnan, a cheerful, likable Dzur, and a student of Sethra Lavode, who is the most powerful sorceress in the world and a vampire. For the rest of the book each chapter opens with a new course and the conversation accompanying the food. The rest of the chapter continues to tell the main story. Brust treats us with mouth watering descriptions of the food, which is mostly, unfortunately, fictional.
The book is written in the same style as the previous ones: deceptively light with a lot of subtle conversation, witty banter, quick plot twists, and memorable characters. Brust doesn't write much description nor does he offer much explanation, which is rare skill in fantasy these days. His style might need some time to get used to but is definitely worth it.
The world of Vlad Taltos is a high magic world, where those who can and know how, travel by teleporting and communicate mind to mind through long distances. However, you can also be tracked through the use of magic, and because of the bounty on his head Vlad has to wear a Phoenix stone, which makes him immune to all forms of magic. At the same time, it makes all the things that were easy in previous books, such as traveling and communication, harder and therefore a bit more interesting.
Steven Brust delivers yet another highly enjoyable swashbuckling romp of the (former) assassin and his familiars. However, the story is focused more on character development than blood or flying guts. It also leaves you wanting more.
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Mervi Hämäläinen is a long-time reader of fantasy, mystery, and science fiction. She's currently working as a freelance translator.