The Lord of Castle Black

by Steven Brust

Cover image

Series: Khaavren Romances #4
Publisher: Tor
Copyright: August 2003
Printing: April 2004
ISBN: 0-8125-3419-0
Format: Mass market
Pages: 386

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The Lord of Castle Black is the middle book of The Viscount of Adrilankha, which forms a sort of closing trilogy in the Khaavren Romances. It's a direct sequel to The Paths of the Dead and not the place to start in the series.

Finally, all of the characters have been introduced and positioned. Various plots are in motion. Background stories have been told. And Zerika is about to end the Interregnum, as any reader of the Vlad Taltos books knew that she would. The action can finally start.

There is plenty of action here. The Lord of Castle Black remedies my main complaint with The Paths of the Dead, namely that the whole book seemed to consist of conversations during journeys. Most of this book instead is a running battle, with a few interludes for discussions with Sethra and scheming by Zerika's opponents. Morrolan comes into his own and starts building his own power base in earnest, and of course all sorts of interesting things happen when Zerika reappears about a quarter of the way into the book. There's also more Tazendra, which suites me well; she's become my favorite character of this series.

The plus side of a series of running battles, each reasonably packed with encounters and maneuvering, is that it gives Brust a chance to do the sort of dialogue that I think he's best at: asides and comments in the middle of other action. I liked this book quite a bit more than Paths, largely because I found it funnier. It helps that the characters from The Phoenix Guards or from the Vlad Taltos books are more prominent; the somewhat uninteresting younger generation are less central and hence less boring. (Although Ibronka may be developing into a character I want to read about. I have a soft spot for Dzur.) With the return of the Orb, there's also more magic and more discussion of magic, which I think is one of the more interesting bits of Brust's universe.

What a book full of running battles doesn't help as much with is any in-depth characterization. Apart from a developing romance, which is a bit cliched but still has some potential and which occupies the tail-end of the book, we don't get much more characterization than we already had. Zerika is still a cipher, Kytraan is still forgettable, and Piro is still rather uninteresting. If you've read The Phoenix Guards and Five Hundred Years After, you already know those characters and don't need much more. If you've read the Vlad Taltos books, you'll be intrigued by some exchanges between Sethra and her servant. But there weren't any moments of characterization that grabbed me like the Dzur conversation in Five Hundred Years After.

This is an improvement over Paths, but it's not quite at the level of Five Hundred Years After and falls quite a bit short of the better Vlad books. There are more odd corners filled with moments of glee and of course Paarfi (the narrator) continues to entertain, but it's neither as introspective nor as frantically exciting as a Vlad novel. So far, this trilogy is a long action adventure with some good dialogue and an amusing, if long-winded, narrator. There are certainly worse things, and it's good reading, but it's not quite in the top tier. (Don't miss the afterword, though; those continue to be a highlight of this series.)

Followed by Sethra Lavode.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2008-12-30

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21