Vallista

by Steven Brust

Cover image

Series: Vlad Taltos #15
Publisher: Tor
Copyright: October 2017
ISBN: 1-4299-4699-7
Format: Kindle
Pages: 334

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This is the fifteenth book in the Vlad Taltos series, and, following the pattern, goes back to fill in a story from earlier in the series. This time, though, it doesn't go back far: Vallista takes place immediately before Hawk (at least according to the always-helpful Lyorn Records; it was not immediately obvious to me since it had been several years since I read Hawk). That means we have to wait at least one more book before Vlad is (hopefully) more free to act, but we get a bit more world-building and a few more clues about the broader arc of this series.

As is hopefully obvious, this is not at all the place to start with this series.

Vallista opens with Devera finding him and asking him for help. Readers of the series will recognize Devera as a regular and mysterious feature, but this is one of the most active roles she's played in a story. Following her, Vlad finds himself at a mysterious seaside house that he's sure wasn't there the last time he went by that area. When he steps inside, Devera vanishes and the door locks behind him.

The rest of the book is Vlad working out the mystery of what this house is, why it was constructed, and the nature of the people who occupy it. This is explicitly an homage to Gothic romances. The dead daughter Vlad encounters isn't exactly a ghost, but she's close, and there's a locked-up monster, family secrets, star-crossed lovers, and ulterior motives everywhere. There's also a great deal of bizarre geometry, since this book is as detailed of an exploration of necromancy as we've gotten in the series to date.

Like many words in Dragaera, necromancy doesn't mean what one expects from the normal English definition, although there's a tricky similarity. In this world it's more about planes of existence than death in particular, and since one of those planes of existence for Dragaerans is the Paths of the Dead and their strange connections across time and space, necromancy is also the magic of spacial and temporal connections. The mansion Vlad has to find his way out of is a creation of necromancy, as becomes clear early in the book, and there is death involved, but there are also a lot of mirrors, discussion of dimensional linkage and shifts, and as detailed of an explanation as we've gotten yet of Devera's unique abilities.

Vlad seems less devious in his attempts to solve mysteries than he is in his heist setups. A lot of Vallista involves Vlad wandering around, asking questions, complaining about his head hurting, and threatening people until he has enough information to understand the nature of the house. Perhaps a careful reader armed with a good memory of series details would be able to guess the mystery before Vlad lays it out for the reader. I'm not that reader and spent most of the book worrying that I was missing things I was supposed to be following. Thankfully, Brust isn't too coy about the ending. Vlad lays out most of the details in the final chapter for those who weren't following the specifics, although I admit I visited the Lyorn Records wiki afterwards to pick up more of the details. The story apart from the mystery is a very typical iteration of Vlad being snarky, kind-hearted, slightly impatient, and intent on minding his own business except when other people force him to get involved in theirs.

As is typical for the series entries that go back and fill in side stories, we don't get a lot of advancement of the main storyline. There is an intriguing scene in the Paths of the Dead with Vlad's memories, and a conversation between Vlad and Verra that provides one of the clearest indications of the overall arc of the series yet, but most of the story is concerned only with the puzzle of this mansion and its builder. I found that enjoyable but not exceptional. If you like Vlad (and if you're still reading this series, I assume you do), this is more of Vlad doing Vlad things, but I doubt it will stand out as anyone's favorite book in the series. But the series remains satisfying and worth reading even fifteen books in, which is a significant accomplishment.

I eagerly await the next book, which will hopefully be the direct sequel to Hawk and an advancement of the main plot.

Followed by (rumored, not yet confirmed) Tsalmoth.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2018-04-30

Last modified and spun 2018-05-01