Sethra Lavode

by Steven Brust

Cover image

Series: Khaavren Romances #5
Publisher: Tor
Copyright: April 2004
ISBN: 0-312-85581-8
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 351

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This is the conclusion of The Viscount of Adrilankha and is essentially the third part of a long novel. It shouldn't be read without reading at least The Paths of the Dead and The Lord of Castle Black, if not the entire series.

Zerika's allies and defenders have prevailed so far, but Kâna is far from entirely defeated. The plots of some of his allies haven't even begun yet. Sethra Lavode opens with a period of quiet, in which personal matters such as the love affair begun in the previous book get the most attention, but Kâna's plans this time are more subtle and more personal. Attacks on trust and loyalty lay the groundwork for the final confrontation for rule of the reforming Dragaeran Empire.

I was hoping, given the book's title, that Sethra Lavode would dig into the past and secrets of the Enchantress of Dzur Mountain. It doesn't do that to any great extent, and in retrospect that was predictable. Paarfi, the supposed author of these novelizations of history, would have only public knowledge of Sethra's doings. I suspect we'll have to wait for more installments of the Vlad Taltos series to learn more.

That said, Sethra Lavode does take the story up a notch in metaphysics. This time, the battle is not solely physical; the Jenoine (familiar to Vlad readers from Issola) is involved, as are the gods. This plus the prominent role played by Morrolan throughout brings the "Vlad characters" (the characters of this series who also appear in the Vlad Taltos books) on stage more frequently, which as far as I'm concerned is always good. There's still a fair bit of traditional battle, but I found it more interesting this time, perhaps because it's told from a higher-level strategic viewpoint and intermixed with metaphysical combat and investigations.

Brust also does a better job with characterization here than in any other book in the Khaavren Romances, despite the large cast. Khaavren, Aerich, Pel, Tazendra, and Piro (finally) all get defining moments. Zerika finally becomes less of a cipher and more of a person, and Morrolan develops considerably (as does his Great Weapon). I enjoyed the contrast between how Morrolan is treated here (a useful, powerful, and knowledgable friend who's horribly impetuous and young) compared to the Vlad Taltos books where he comes across as one of the elder powers (except sometimes by Sethra). It provides not only good characterization but a nice continuity of characterization with the other series.

Khaavren has truly been the hero of this series from the start, despite the focus on Piro in The Paths of the Dead, and here he gets plenty of attention, characterization, and the sort of conclusion that he deserves. His relationship with Zerika, his conception of his role as a father, and his attitude towards duty are developed considerably, and I liked Paarfi's handling of the conclusion and aftermath for him. His friends get less screen time (particularly Tazendra), but the time they do get is excellent. Tazendra gets a moment as good as anything in Five Hundred Years After. And while Piro's companions remain rather one-sided, Brust develops him more than I was expecting and got me interested in the chapters focused on him.

Brust has a talent for endings, particularly ones that weave together multiple disparate threads into a satisfying, complex payoff. This long series, and particularly the long three-part book that ends it, dragged a bit in the middle and is arguably a little too long, but it also gave him time to build up a lot of material to pull together. The payoff is excellent, particularly the last hundred pages where Paarfi jumps from cliff-hanger to cliff-hanger, leaving the reader always wanting more of the scene he just left but still eager to read the upcoming scene. Brust also provides a lot of genuine emotion in the conclusion, not just the thrill of battles and victory. There's a bit of pathos, a lot of sorrow, and a lot of hard-won wisdom that honors the length and importance of the journey.

I think this is the best book of the Khaavren Romances series. If you enjoyed Paarfi enough to read past the first book, it's worth it to keep going for the ending, even through the weaker Paths of the Dead. I particularly recommend the series and this book for Vlad readers. It may not answer that many questions about the background of the world, but it fills in a lot of depth and characterization for the Dragaerans Vlad mingles with. Plus, while very different in style from the Vlad novels, it's just a great book.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2009-01-04

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