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).
Journey to the land of the dead. All expenses paid!
Not my idea of an ideal vacation, but this was work. After all, even an assassin has to earn a living.
The trouble is, everyone knows that a living human cannot walk the Paths of the Dead, and return, alive, to the land of men.
But being an Easterner is not exactly like being human, by Dragaeran standards anyway. Thus, the rule doesn't apply to me... I hope.
Another prequel, as we learn both how Vlad came to the be ruthless assassin that he is and how he got involved in/survived one of his old war stories. Brust must not have figured out yet how to move on after book 3, in which Vlad and his wife, Cawti, find themselves in conflict over a resistance movement.
A return to the past gives us the old Vladimir, who is cheerfully amoral and who only experiences twinges of conscience from time to time. The wise-cracking Loiosh (his familiar, a flying lizard) provides some comic relief, as do Vlad’s wry comments. I am sure that Brust must have been familiar with Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat series—he created another charismatic criminal in Vlad, though maybe not quite so conscience-free as Slippery Jim DiGriz. Giving Vlad magical talents was an inspired addition.
Because there are two stories involved, there is a fair bit of shifting back and forth between the two. This can be a bit confusing until you get into the rhythm of it. Once you are aware of what to expect, things go smoothly.
Series like this one foreshadow the snarky, smart-cracking main characters that I currently enjoy in urban fantasy. Vlad’s weakness (teleportation makes him nauseous) humanizes him a bit. He also builds a group of people around himself—perhaps not friends, but at least co-operative allies. Those are perhaps some of the reasons why Vlad’s stories appeal to me as much as they do. I can see Vlad as the predecessor of characters like Harry Dresden (The Dresden Files) and Atticus O'Sullivan (The Iron Druid).
Book 234 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.