by Steven Brust

Cover image

Series: Vlad Taltos #12
Publisher: Tor
Copyright: 2009
Printing: January 2010
ISBN: 0-7653-1208-5
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 319

Buy at Powell's Books

This is the twelfth book in the Vlad Taltos series, not counting the associated works in the same universe, and returns to the main sequence of the plot, taking place four years after the events of Dzur. As you might guess from that, it's not the place to start with this series. This is one of the very few series where I've been so looking forward to the twelfth book that I'd buy it immediately in hardcover.

If you're a long-time series reader and cringed at my mention above of a four year delay after Dzur, don't worry too much. The critical thing that was about to happen at the end of that book is told in a flashback in the center of this one. There is even some small advancement of the complicated problem of Vlad's relationship with Cawti, and it's nice to see both of them getting past feeling sorry for themselves and starting to cautiously open up a tiny bit. But that's not what brings Vlad back to Adrilankha and back into immediate danger. Aliera has been arrested and threatened with death for practicing elder sorcery.

Long-time readers will have the same reaction that Vlad does, which is "bwah?" Aliera, as well as many of Vlad's other powerful friends, have been messing with elder sorcery since the beginning of the series. Obviously, there's something else going on that caused the Empress to enforce a mostly-ignored Imperial Edict, and Vlad's investigation is the center of the book.

This is a great, classical Vlad story, with a mix of investigation, supposition, riling people up to see what they reveal, and practical assassination tips, reminiscent of Jhereg or Orca. There's a lot of wise-cracking, a lot of complex alliances and plots, and a lot of Vlad skulking about, having pointed conversations with people, charging straight through problems, and doing what he does best. This book also deals with the law and the details of the Dragaeran legal system more than the previous books, since that's the special domain of the House of Iorich and a key component of the central problem of the book.

As with Orca, the twists Brust throws in when Vlad works out the motivations of the villains of the piece are both amusing and satisfying, although I suspect they'll rub some people the wrong way politically. The Dragaeran universe offers lots of opportunities for sly commentary on politics and current events, and Brust is good at using them without sounding preachy. There is no grand villain in this book; the villains are organizational and involve more believable motives and political schemes than the pure power lust that infects most of fantasy.

As with many of the Vlad books, much of Iorich takes place in dialogue, which is a strength of both Vlad and Brust. I enjoy how this series rewards careful reading while making that careful reading so fun that it never feels like work, and with Vlad pointing out or alluding to the bits that you may have just missed and all but telling you what particular lines to re-read. Everything's always moving almost too fast to follow, but not quite so fast that one feels lost. It's pure pleasure to read a novel in which the protagonist thinks as quickly and deeply as the reader, or more so, but doesn't withhold vital clues (usually, at least) or cheat and isn't strangely infallible. Vlad comes across as legitimately intelligent.

Brust is still being infuriatingly coy about Lady Teldra, and that part of the main plot has only minor advancement in this story. It seems like, even after four years, we know almost as little as we did during Dzur. But that part of the story is showing all the signs of being the gun on the mantelpiece that won't properly go off until the end of the series, which if things go as planned is still seven books away.

Definitely recommended to series readers. Brust has a great serial going here, with a protagonist that I'm still not tired of and a lot of mysteries and ongoing plot he can use to toy with the readers, but he's great at telling a complete and satisfying story in each installment. I can hardly wait for the next book.

Followed by Tiassa.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2010-05-07

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