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on 25 August 1998
I have just finished The Phoenix Guards and I must say it has held me in thrall. I find my own speech patterns have been affected by the lovely turns of phrase and linguistic curiosities with which Mr. Brust has peppered his novel. Mr. Brust uses the third-person (Nearly-omniscient) point of view to craft a tale that is witty, cunning, and entertaining. The story is told as a written history collected by all-seeing, all-knowing Dragaeran historians. There are no dry spots. My only complaint is that, despite voliminous explanation to the contrary, I have no idea when in the Jhereg-series timeline all of this takes place (except for the vague timeframe of "Prior to Adron's disaster"). BTW: you get to meet Adron E'Kieron on stage towards the end, which is a treat.
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on 13 January 1998
If you want entertainment that is intelligent, engrossing, well-written and very hard to find in the land of ever-shortening attention spans, AND at the same time, touches the lasting appeal of literature, read Brust. As an literary cynic, who has also read from most of the major writers in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre, I continue to be pleasantly surprised by the ingenuity and range of Steven Brust. He is a truly gifted writer and his books, from the Taltos series to the Khaavren romances, continue to provide me with rich satisfying entertainment, well through the third, and fourth readings. Even after experiencing the wonderful characterizations and original plot twistings in the Taltos series, the first of the Khaavren trilogy again showed new levels of imagination and range. If he is not Dumas, forgive us for loving him in any case, because the relish and joy in his writing is apparent to even the most disapproving of readers... and it continues to delight the rest of us.
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on 3 April 1998
There are those who are disturbed by Brust's practice of twisting classic works through several alternate dimensions; I am always amazed at how well he does it. The rhythms of the dialogue, the descriptions, the characters -- they are similar but not the same, as though viewed through a glass that distorts and reveals simultaneously. It is a walk along a very cunning tightrope -- not alienating those who love the classic while satisfying those who love the fantasy. As one who has adored the unabridged Dumas since childhood, I confess myself well satisfied. As a reader of fantasy for several decades, I find myself, again, amazed.
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on 4 October 1996
The book The Phoenix Guards (and it's sequel 500 Years After) are an excellent tribute to the fine works of Alexander Dumas, being more than loosely based upon The Three Musketeers (originally titled "The Three Guardsmen"). It is based in the world Brust created for his Taltos series, albeit about 1000 years prior. For those who appreciate a good deal of humor along with the Dumas style, and exciting swordplay, this book has the typical Brust quality characters and dialogue.
I highly recommend it for anyone who ever loved the French classic.
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The Phoenix Guards" by Stephen Brust introduces the character of "Khaavren" and is the first in a series of fantasy novels, the "Khaavren Romances" which pay homage to the D'Artagnan romances of Alexandre Dumas.

Stephen Brust has written two linked series set several hundred years apart in the same fantasy world, and this book kicks off the chronologically earlier of the two. The five Khaavren romances, in sequence, are

1) This book, "The Phoenix Guards" (equivalent to "The Three Musketeers")
2) "Five Hundred Years after (Khaavren Romances)"" (equivalent to "Twenty years after")

Then a trilogy "The Viscount of Adrilankha" (equivalent to "The Viscount of Bragelonne") which comprises

3) The Paths of the Dead: Book One of the Viscount of Adrilankha
4) The Lord of Castle Black (Viscount of Adrilankha)
5) Sethra Lavode (Viscount of Adrilankha).

I would recommend reading these stories in that order.

If you are wondering how a book equivalent to "Twenty Years After" (and therefore featuring the same characters at a different stage of their lives) could have a title like "Five Hundred Years After," it is because although there are a few characters in these books who are human (e.g. Homo Sapiens Sapiens) the majority of characters including Khaavren belong to a race who can live for thousands of years.

All the "Vlad Taltos" novels and "Khaavren" romances are set in a world of magic, where there are several intelligent species, including two types of men and women. Humans like ourselves are usually referred to as "Easterners," the other type of men and women call themselves humans but are usually referred to in the books as "Dragaerans" or occasionally as Elves.

Dragaerans are taller than humans, live much longer (a couple of thousand years), and then after death are eligible for reincarnation if they have not annoyed a God too much or had their soul destroyed by a "Morganti" weapon or a "Great Weapon."

"Morganti" weapons do not just kill you, they also destroy your soul. "Great Weapons," of which there are supposed to be no more than seventeen, are particularly powerful Morganti weapons which are at least to some degree sentient, can decide whether to destroy your soul or not, and which can seriously harm even gods.

All Dragaerans belong to one of seventeen "Great Houses" named after animals of the fantasy world in which the novels are set. The throne of the Dragaeran empire rotates through these houses in a cycle of which each stage lasts for centuries.

At the time when "The Phoenix Guards" begins the Empire has just begun the Phoenix stage of the cycle, taking over from the Athyra. That in means that the head of the House of Phoenix has just succeeded to the throne as Emperor Tortaalik I, taking over from the Athyra Emperor whose reign concluded at the end of the previous cycle. During the reign of the last Athyra Emperor, the Imperial Guards (equivalent to the King's Musketeers in the Dumas book) were called the Athyra Guards. They retired with the turn of the cycle a few days before, and now the Phoenix Emperor is setting up a new Phoenix Guard.

Each of the animals for which the great houses are named epitomises two characteristics, and the houses tend to have a preferred occupation to which those characteristics are relevant. For examples Dragons symbolise war and conquest, Dzur (which look a bit like tigers) represent heroism and honor, hence Dragaeran members of House Dragon and House Dzur (known as Dragonlords and Dzurlords) tend to be soldiers. "Tecla" look like mice and symbolise cowardice and fertility: members of House Tecla are peasants. "Iorich" epitomise justice and retribution, and members of that house tend to be judges or lawyers. "Chreotha" represent forethought and ensnarement, and members of that house are merchants. The Orca (Killer Whale) represents brutality and mercantilism: members of that house are sailors, pirates or - wait for it - bankers, and "Jhereg" representing Greed and Corruption are gangsters or assassins.

Tiassa, who look like winged cats, symbolise Catalyst and Inspiration. Khaavren, the hero of the story, is a Tiassa. He is a bit like a cross between D'Artagnan and Sherlock Holmes: extremely clever but a bit rash and far too talkative for his own good.

If you are familiar with the "Vlad Taltos" stories this book is set about a thousand years before Vlad's birth, at a time when Adrilankha is not yet capital of the Empire.

At this time the Imperial capital is Dragaera City, and that is where Khaavren, from a noble family who have lost their lands, arrives in the hope of taking up employment in the new Phoenix Guard ...

I enjoyed both the Khaavren series and the other Stephen Burst series set in the same universe but some centuries later, which features a human called Vlad, Baronet Taltos (later Count Szurke). Vlad starts out as an assassin and crimelord within the Jhereg mafia but then develops an unfortunate case of principles ...

Here is the list of Vlad Taltos novels in publication order, with the chronological place of the main action of each book in brackets after:

1) Jhereg (4th)
2) Yendi (3rd)
3) Tecla (5th)
4) Taltos (1st)
5) Phoenix (6th)
6) Athyra (8th)
7) Orca (9th)
8) Dragon (2nd)
9) Issola (10th)
10) Dzur (11th)
11) Jhegaala (7th)
12) Iorich (12th)
13) Tiassa (13th)
14) Hawk (14th).

So in other words, the chronological sequence approximates to:

a) Taltos
b) Dragon
c) Yendi
d) Jhereg
e) Tecla
f) Phoenix
g) Jhegaala
h) Athyra
i) Orca
j) Issola
k) Dzur
l) Iorich
m) Tiassa
n) Hawk

Overall I found both the "Taltos" novels and the "Khaavren Romances" very entertaining: I recommend both series and this book.
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on 22 October 1997
While this book doesn't give the gunhoe and macho-manness of most fantasy novels, it is full of interweaving plots, schemes, and intrigues of the royal court in Dragaera. Even though, Khaavren and his companions may not be characters of depth, they are very easy to relate with, in that unknown forces act upon them for reasons unknown to themselves. Overall, this book is great for an avid and dedicated reader of science-fiction/fantasy books.
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on 25 November 2003
The Dragaera stories are most interesting when they treat a familiar genre in a different way - the Taltos books mix gangster stories, 007, magic-as-technology with reliable old fantasy themes. With these books (The Phoenix Guards, Five Hundred Years After...) Stephen reworks his own Taltos setting in the style of Dumas - brilliantly. If you don't like Dumas, though, you won't like these...
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on 11 April 1997
This book is set in the Dragaeran world that Vlad Taltos moves in; the same setting as in "Jhereg", "Taltos", "Orca", "Phoenix", "Teckla", "Athyra", have I missed any?
All of which books I loved. But this is a slightly strained attempt to
parody "The Three Musketeers" by Alexander Dumas, an old favorite of mine.
Well, I don't think it worked. Brust's characters act far more outrageously than
the originals, and I think the attempt to bend the story to match the original too
closely ruined its believability. It doesn't quite work.
Still, it is a well-written piece, and an ambitious attempt.
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on 17 June 1998
I thought this book had a pretty good plot, if you like intruige and adventure, politics and duels. I think the characters were brilliant, and the so called "unnecessary dialogue" only added to the overall greatness of the story. I use the character names and sometimes the personalities in my role-playing: Dungeons and Dragons, Shadowrun, Mechwarrior, Diablo, Starcraft. I highly reccommend this book, and once you read it, you won't forget it anytime soon!
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on 16 April 1997
I think Brust is a charming and subtle writer (a rare quality in sci-fi). Unfortunately, this book is really not that interesting. It lacks the emotional depth and complex plotting of the Vlad Taltos books, settling for basically flat characters and an uninvolving march through an uneventful plot. The humor, while present, is pretty thin, and lacks the edge of his other work. Read his other books.
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