by Steven Brust

Cover image

Series: Vlad Taltos #11
Publisher: Tor
Copyright: July 2008
ISBN: 0-7653-0147-4
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 300

Buy at Powell's Books

This is the eleventh book the Vlad Taltos series. As entries in this series go, this one isn't bad at standing alone and you could read it without reading the previous ones, although you'd miss some of the depth and background.

We're back to filling in bits between other stories. Jhegaala takes place chronologically after Phoenix and before Athyra (it turns out that Athyra doesn't follow as directly as I thought). However, it tells the story of Vlad heading east, into the country where his family originally came from and largely out of Dragaera and Dragaeran affairs, and makes few references to why. It's separate from the main plot arc of the series and just fills in a few details, such as the cause of an injury.

It's always a bit disappointing to me when the next book in this series goes back to fill in gaps instead of advancing the overall plot. That plot has me thoroughly hooked and I'm anxious to discover what happens next. But as backfill goes, this is one of the stronger books: better than Dragon and up there with Taltos, although for different reasons.

This is not a book with new, deep insight into the mythology and background of Vlad's universe, nor does it develop the magic, the Great Weapons, or any of the other threads that underly the main plot. It is, instead, just a great story of Vlad stumbling into, figuring out, and extracting himself from trouble. It's reminiscent of some of the earlier books and Vlad's work as an assassin and crime boss that way, except that it's without some of the more annoying overhead of Jhereg politics. It's also focused purely on Vlad, with only his familiars for company, so we get lots of his philosophy, introspection, and interaction with strangers.

Jhegaala takes place in the town of Burz in an Eastern kingdom outside of the boundaries of Dragaera. Vlad goes there because he has a clue that his parents may have come from there. Burz is a paper town, with much of the town working in the paper mill (and even from having driven past Albany many times as a child, I have some idea of just how bad the town would indeed smell), and the local Count draws his income from that. It's also a town with strange politics and a lot of secrets, as Vlad discovers when people start dying shortly after he arrives there.

The story is a great mix of action, Vlad's typical banter and analysis, and a satisfyingly twisty and complex situation that Vlad puts together in pieces and shares with the reader and his familiar in his own sweet time. Like several of the best Vlad novels, it comes together in a burst of explanation suitable for a mystery novel, but told with Vlad's unique charm. Jhegaala is fast-moving, engrossing, and just plain fun in a way that typifies the whole series. Brust even pulls off an extended illness scene, usually one of the weak points in novels for me, with enough skill that it only provoked a mild grumble. Even the chapter introductions are some of the better ones of the series: excerpts from a fictional play apparently about two detectives, with dialogue that struck me as a cross between Vlad and Paarfi.

If you can forgive it its lack of advancement of the main story, Jhegaala is great stuff and exactly the sort of story that makes this series so enjoyable. If you like the series, don't miss this one.

Followed by Iorich.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2009-01-01

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