Orca

by Steven Brust

Cover image

Series: Vlad Taltos #7
Publisher: Ace
Copyright: 1996
Printing: February 2003
ISBN: 0-441-01010-5
Format: Trade paperback
Pages: 227

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Orca is the seventh book of the Vlad Taltos series and builds on Athyra and several previous books. As always, Brust tries to make it possible to read it alone, but you'd be missing a lot of relevant background. I read this book as part of The Book of Athyra omnibus, which is what the sidebar information is for.

I was a bit nervous when Orca opened following Athyra in having a narrator other than Vlad, but I didn't need to worry. Brust returns here to his typical style for the Taltos books, and while much of the book is told in first person perspective by Kiera, there are long sections of Vlad relating his actions via his standard first-person narration. Kiera's narration also isn't that far from Vlad's: slightly less wise-cracking, a different attitude towards killing and negotiation, and a bit less impulsive, but she keeps up a similar running commentary.

The plot is also a return to standard Vlad material, with an excellent twist. Vlad is looking for help with the fallout from Athyra and finds it in the person of an elderly woman, but the price the woman wants for her help is to keep her home. She's been served an eviction notice by someone who has apparently bought her land, her bank has closed, and she can't find who is evicting her to do anything about it. When Vlad starts looking into this, he quickly discovers a murder is involved, the Empire is investigating (but oddly), and the land-owner is lost in a maze of companies. The deeper he and Kiera probe, the stranger the situation looks.

Orca reads more like a detective novel than most of the Vlad books, and Brust does an excellent job with a twisty plot involving lots of dropped hints, red herrings, and many players with competing motives. There are several levels of investigation happening simultaneously, many of which involving the dialogue-intensive scenes that Brust writes so well. It's great fun to watch Vlad and Kiera manipulate, deceive, and even befriend people while they puzzle out the situation and its implications.

Even better, Brust does this in a story about shell companies, bank failures, and predatory financial practices, with a bit of Mafia (Jhereg) involvement mixed in. It's a surprisingly sophisticated and contemporary theme for a fantasy novel, but it works exceptionally well in Brust's universe and he writes it with an attention to the big picture and the affected victims that makes the story matter. It's never boring; Brust puts in plenty of action, dances with the Imperial investigators, and typical Vlad fights. Brust even manages to pull off realistic implications and fallout while keeping those interesting.

That's not the best part, though. The best part is the ending, a truly exceptional twist that Brust advertises just enough to be fair, but which caught me entirely by surprise. Great stuff.

Orca starts a bit slow, but I think by the end of the book it was my favorite Vlad Taltos book so far. There's a bit more world background, a great plot with an unusual and well-written problem, lots of Vlad being Vlad, and a fantastic ending. It's great to see such a strong series entry after a somewhat weak interlude.

Followed by Dragon.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2008-09-07

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21