Every time I give up hope and decide that Stephen Brust has decided to stick to making music and drop out of the writing business he produces another delightful tale. "Issola," next in the Vlad Taltos series, is classic Brust, funny, imaginative and captivating. It is easy to run out of superlatives with this series, which is consistently good fantasy. This latest effort is certainly one of his finest.
After a very bad run in with House Jhereg (his adopted clan) Vlad Taltos decides his best policy is to stay out of Adrilankha, maybe forever. While camping out in the woods with Loiosh his wisecracking familiar he receives a visit from Lady Teldra, one of Lord Morrolan's attendants. Vlad is more than a bit surprised since no one knows where he is, and he is supposed to be invisible. Teldra reassures him, and tells him that he is needed to help find Lord Morrolan and Aliera, close friends of Vlad. Off they go to Sethra Lavode's home (she's the world's oldest vampire) on Dzur Mountain.
Vlad and Teldra manage to track down Morrolan and Aliera, only to be captured themselves. The villains of the piece are the Jenoine, an ancient race who have no love for anyone else, god or mortal. Vlad and Teldra discover that the Jenoine plan to tap a huge source of Amorphia to get rid of the more irritating parts of the scenery, like Vlad, Loiosh, Teldra, and, possible, even a good chunk of the universe. A complicated chess game starts with Vlad feeling very much like a pawn as gods, demons, Dragaerans, the Jenoine, and a few more impossibilities wrestle for the fate of his world.
Vlad's frustration mounts as he deals with folk and superfolk who are legendary and who have little interest in having to explain everything to a mere Easterner. Vlad's continuous patter of sharp comments and sarcastic remarks, provide much entertainment to the reader (and to Loiosh), but they hide a deep anxiety about the outcome. He finds himself with a vital role in a struggle but one that is not clearly defined. The drama plays out with surprises for all involved, especially Vlad, who finds that he has a new role in the workings of the Dragaerans.
Brust, who always creates intriguing characters, outdoes himself in "Issola." He provides the reader with additional insights into Morrolan, Aliera, Sethra Lavode, the Necromancer, and Verra the Demon Goddess. Teldra, previously just a bit player, is a work of art. Nor can one fault the narrative, which has Brust's usual clarity and flow. Needless to say the new reader might be better off with an earlier volume in the series, but Brust spends just enough time on history to provide the reader with enough to go on. Naturally, the faithful will be delighted. As will anyone else who is looking for what will probably be considered one of the year's best fantasies.