I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
A welcome addition to any fantasy fan's library, The Book of Jhereg follows the antics of the wise-cracking assassin Vlad Taltos and his dragon-like companion through their first three adventures:Jhereg, Yendi, and Teckla. From his rookie assassin days to his selfless feats of heroism, the dauntless Vlad will hold readers spellbound and The Book of Jhereg will take its place among the classic compilations in fantasy.
An anthology containing the first three novels of the Vlad Taltos series. A very enjoyable introduction to his world and life. It did its job—I was sandwiched in a middle seat on an airplane, badly needing distraction from the two men I was shoe-horned between for the flight from Houston to Calgary (4 hours, if you’re interested). Dude on my left seemed to resent my very existence, so it was with great pleasure that I imagined my personal assassin, Vlad, doing his thing.
The first book (Jhereg) was spent getting to know the wise-cracking, paranoid assassin and learning the lay of the land, so to speak, on the world he inhabits. Brust includes a lot of detail—a multi-layered, complex social structure, a couple of systems of magic/sorcery, a fairly large cast of characters, plus a few new biological creatures to assimilate (specifically Vlad’s jhereg familiar, a flying lizard). Brust leaves you to glean facts along the way as he flings Vlad into a rather Rococo plot which twists and turns as more facts are uncovered. Brust owes a debt to series like Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat, whose main character is Slippery Jim DiGriz, another charming conman.
Book two (Yendi) told the backstory of Vlad’s marriage. I appreciated his wife Cawti, as she had her own kick-butt history and a female business partner with whom she obviously had a real friendship. However, the two women never really get to take centre stage for a scene—their conversations are assumed off the page, which disappointed me somewhat. I had hoped that Yendi would pass the Bechdel test, but no dice.
Teckla (Book three) changed the tone of the series entirely. Suddenly, it becomes necessary for Vlad to question the morality of his crime & assassination business and to decide if he is satisfied in a society where he is constantly discriminated against because of his race. These are serious questions which Vlad struggles with, being in a rather privileged position for an Easterner. He could lose it all, but what is it actually worth? Plus he is soon at odds with Cawti—which causes believable distress for our assassin friend. I appreciated the depiction of continued stress and misunderstandings in the relationship, as both parties sort out what they can and cannot live with.
With as many complexities as Brust introduced in these two volumes, there are bound to be details that don’t get as much attention as they deserve. For me, I wished that Vlad’s relationship with his familiar, Loiosh, was better developed. The flying lizard-like jhereg had great potential that never really got explored—he was more like a living, smart-cracking weapon than like a true partner to Vlad.
I will happily read more books in this series in months to come.