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Stephen Brust has written two series set several hundred years apart in the same fantasy world. This book, which is collection of linked stories set at very different times, describes itself on the cover as a "novel of Vlad Taltos" and it is the thirteenth novel in that series.

However, Khaavren, the central figure of Brust's other series set in the same world, his wife Daro and their son Piri, are as important in this book as Vlad and his lady Cawti, who is his fiance when she first appears in this book and his separated wife when she appears in another story set several years later.

So much so that this novel is almost as much Khaavren Romance number six as Vlad Taltos story thirteen.

If you're not familiar with either the Khaavren Romances or the Vlad Taltos novels and are wondering how the central characters of two series set several hundred years apart could meet, the answer is that Khaavren and his family are members of a race which has a life expectancy of about 2,000 years.

In form this novel consists of three linked but self-contained novellas with a couple of short interludes between them. The first, called "Tag," is set at the outset of Vlad's career, just after he got engaged to Cawti (which places it between "Yendi" and "Jhereg") and begins when a Tiassa calling himself "Blue Fox" comes to Vlad with a strange request.

The second story, "Whitecrest" is set much later, a year after the attempted invasion by a group of hostile Gods called the Jenoine which is described in the book "Issola." In relation to the other books that puts this story between "Dzur" and "Iorich". It begins when the Empress warns Khaavren that she has been advised to expect another, similar attack. The main characters in "Whitecrest" are Khaavren's wife Daro after whom the story is obviously named (she is Countess of Whitecrest) and Cawti, who by this time is Vlad's wife but separated from him.

The third story, "Special Tasks" is set some years after "Whitecrest" and is chronologically the latest story in the series: in this story Khaavren investigates an attack on an imperial nobleman, Count Szurke (which is the name by which Vlad now prefers to be known rather than Baronet Taltos.) This is not the first time that Vlad and Khaavren's lives had affected each other, or even the first time that they had met, but it is the first time that they have a discussion lasting longer than a few seconds which is why I regard it as the key part of the book.

The three stories are linked by a silver statuette of a Tiassa, and in between them there are a couple of interludes which describe how Vlad's patron deity, the demon goddess Verra, went about providing herself with a grandchild.

If you are new to the Vlad Taltos/Khaavren universe, I would advise against starting with this book. The best place to start reading about Vlad is either the first published book in his series, "Jhereg", or the chronologically first one, "Taltos."

The best place to start reading about Khaavren is in Brust's first book about him, which is a marvellous parody of Dumas's The Three Musketeers, called "The Phoenix Guards".

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" such as the sword "Lady Teldra" which Vlad now carries.

All Dragaerans belong to one of seventeen "Great Houses" named after animals of the fantasy world in which the novels are set. Twelve of the thirteen novels featuring Vlad Taltos, including "Tiassa," are named after one of these great houses, usually also featuring a member of that house in a prominent role: if Steven Brust is planning to write a novel for each house we are about two-thirds of the way through the series.

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 are a sort of winged cat, and epitomise catalysts and inspiration: Dragaeran members of this house tend to be exceptionally clever and sometimes verbose. Khaavren, hero of the eponymous series and captain of the imperial guard, who is much like a cross between D'Artagnan and Sherlock Holmes, is a Tiassa. So are his wife Daro (Countess Whitecrest) and obviously therefore their son Piro, (the Viscount of Adrilankha).

Vladimir, Count Szurke (a.k.a. Baronet Vladimir Taltos), began his career as an assassin and crimelord within the Jhereg organisation (mafia) and is still a Jhereg crimelord at the time of the first story within this book, "Tag". Several books later, Vlad goes on the run from the Jhereg, who put a massive price on his head, after developing an unfortunate case of principles, which he tries very hard to hide.

At the time of the first story in ths book Vlad has a companion and familiar called Loiosh, and by the time of the second and third main stories Loiosh has acquired a mate, Rocza. Loiosh and Rocza are actual Jhereg - that is to say, they are small intelligent flying reptiles.

One bit of information for anyone who does start with this book: a Dragaeran term used without explanation in "Tiassa" is going to "the star" or being "starred." This refers to the Dragaeran method of execution. Those convicted of a capital crime in the Dragaeran empire are tied to a five pointed star with the head and each arm and leg against a point of the star, and the executioner then strikes off in turn each of the four limbs and finally the head.

The chronological sequence of the "Vlad Taltos" series jumps about all over the place, both between books and within most of the books. Furthermore, there are all sorts of little nuggets buried in these stories which don't fully make sense if you have not read previously published books. I personally think it is best to read these stories in the order they were published.

You can, alternatively, make an argument for reading these books in chronological sequence. However, there isn't an "official" chronological sequence, and attempts to create one, including mine which I'm about to give you, are subjective. That's because most of the books contain things which happen at very different times. For example, if the three main stories in this book had been published as separate books instead of together, I would have placed them fourth, thirteenth, and fifteenth in the sequence.

As the heart of this book is the interaction between Vlad and Khaavren, and as mentioned the most important part of this takes place in the final section of the book which is the chronologically latest. For that reason I have put "Tiassa" at the end of my chronological list.

Here is the list of Vlat 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).

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

However, if the three main stories in this novel had been published as separate books, this order would be:

i) Taltos
ii) Dragon
iii) Yendi
iv) Tag (within Tiassa)
v) Jhereg
vi) Tecla
vii) Phoenix
viii) Jhegaala
ix) Athyra
x) Orca
xi) Issola
xii) Dzur
xiii) Whitecrest (within Tiassa)
xiv) Iorich
xv) Special Tasks (within Tiassa)

The five Khaavren romances, in sequence, are

1) "The Phoenix Guards" (equivalent to "The Three Musketeers")
2) "Five Hundred Years After" (equivalent to "Twenty years after")

Then a trilogy "The Viscount of Adrilankha" (e.g. "The Viscount of Bragelonne") which comprises

3) The Paths of the Dead
4) The Lord of Castle Black
5) Sethra Lavode

And you can make a case for "Tiassa" being number six !

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 30 March 2011
This is the 13th novel in Brust's Vlad Taltos sequence, which shares a world with "The Khaavren Romances" series. The first thing to say is that if you are not familiar with the series, this is probably a bad place to start - Jhereg or Taltos are probably a better starting point. If you're already a fan, however, you will want to know that this is a good, if unusual, Vlad novel.

Vlad Taltos makes his home in the Dragaeran Empire. The Dragaerans refer to themselves as "humans", and to Vlad's people as "Easterners", whereas in fact Easterners are what we think of as human, and Dragaerans are taller, extremely long lived, divided into Great Houses named after various animals, and take some physical and behavioural influence from those animals. A strong theme in the series is that Dragaerans are very much influenced by the heritage of their houses: Dragons are reckless and often serve as soldiers, Orca are avaricious and take to trade, Phoenix are solitary, and so on. When Vlad first appeared in the series, he had bought his way into membership of House Jhereg, who were mob-style criminals. He raised the money by working as an assassin, which fed his preference for hurting Dragaerans in retaliation for their oppression of Easterners. Vlad is no one-note character, however, and over a long sequence of books he was often confronted by the paradoxes of his position, with him eventually fleeing with a price on his head, and continuing into stranger climes.

The main delight of Vlad books is the wry, idiosyncratic narration by Vlad himself, told with brevity and wit. The other sequence set in Dragaera, The Khaavren Romances, took the opposite approach, being written in the long and stylised manner of Dumas. These dealt with events some centuries before Vlad's time, and revealed some background to the major world-changing events that Vlad has sometimes been on the fringes of.

The first section of Tiassa is set back when Vlad was a member of the Jhereg in good standing, and features him in a scam very much in the style of the early books. This is classic Vlad, and is a welcome return to the younger carefree gangster. The second section then throws a twist right at anyone who had settled in for a standard Vlad book: It is set during his period of exile, Vlad barely appears in person, and our narrators include minor characters from both this series and the Khaavren books. However, the third section tops everything, jumping straight into the style of the Khaavren books, and showing us Khaavren himself during the up-to-date timeline of the Vlad books, as he investigates murky goings-on surrounding Vlad. In between, there are some interludes with fascinating tidbits about the character of Devera and her heritage.

The link between all this is a small silver figurine of a Tiassa, which causes far more trouble than it really ought, entwining the disparate sections together in a sequence that fans of Brust will delight in. However, if you're not up-to-date with the series, this will probably totally bemuse you, and I can't honestly recommend it to new readers. Overall, this is a real return to form, and there's a sense that Brust is starting to move the series towards whatever conclusion he has planned.
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This is the 13th novel directly in the Vlad Taltos series and when you include the Khaavren Romances and the short stories set in Dragaera there are over 20 works to date. I have been reading them since Jhereg came out in 1983 and still find them amazing stories to read. In fact Jhereg is the first book that I can recall purchasing for myself, and attribute it and Brust's writings for much of my love and enjoyment of reading. If you are not familiar with Vlad Taltos and his familiar Loiosh you are missing out on some great fun, a little bit of magic, weapons, weapons and more weapons, and an assassin with a wicked sense of humor and often a big heart. This book is written in three sections that spread across the most of the other novels and links it to characters from The Khaavren Romances. Every now and then a Vlad novel comes out that is so good, I end up going back and rereading the whole series, either in the order they were published or the Chronological order. This is one such book.

The stories in this volume focuses around a an ornate silver Tissa, "It is described as a tiny sculpture of a tiassa, all of silver, with sapphires for eyes." And also "-about the size of my palm, all of silver, except for the eyes, which appeared to be very tiny sapphires. The wings were thin, and filled with a multitude of tiny holes so the light shone through, and there were whiskers around the mouth." Yes it is a beautiful piece of artwork, it was crafted by the goddess Mafenyi and stolen by Devera, and from time to time Devera passes it on to someone who needs it for a specific purpose. It features in this story and in its history Vlad appears to be the only person who has possessed it twice. Other than Devera but she currently dances in and out of time, playing with this and that as the mood takes her.

The Second section takes place many years later. Vlad is on the run from the Jhereg. This story follows many characters but Vad is not directly involved. The Countess of Whitecress, wife to Khaavren and mother to the Viscount, and Cawti - Vlad's ex-wife and a certain hair to the throne. Again many things are not as they appear but the resolution and it's after effects are very surprising.

The third section is written by Paarfi within the story and told as a popular fiction. It follows Khaavren as both the Captain of the Phoenix Guard and leader of the Special Tasks Group. This story begins with Vlad being found nearly dead floating in the river and Khaavren must find out why, and why Vlad lied about how and where he sustained his injuries.

All in all it was a great story that filled in some pieces, tied together some different stories and characters and as always left us wanting more. Thankfully Hawk is due out soon.
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on 26 June 2012
I love the Vlad Taltos series but have really struggled to like the "romances" set in the same world in an earlier time period - and written - fatally - in the style of Dumas or Sabatini. This is a a very wordy style - it's supposed to be funny but I find it wearingly repetitive and prolix. Even the clever characters come across as thick because it takes them pages to say things like: "I have come to explain." "How, explain?" "Impart to you that which you need to know", "How, need to know? " and so on and on. This is nothing like as much fun to read as the stories written in Vlad's voice - wisecracking, modern and alive - reminiscent of classic Roger Zelazny. So now this syle intrudes into the Vlad time period in Tiassa - which is really three short stories - none of which represent Brust at his best. The first one is thin and also depends on a figure from the Romances behaving totally out of character; in addition, the emotional heart of the plot, usually a Brust strength - is simply omitted. In the middle one, the whole thing concerns minor characters - women from the background of Vlad's life - and here again they are not very interestingly drawn in the main and the plot is two-dimensional. The third one, to my dismay is in this "high" Romance style. In between, as a reviewer above says, we do find out some interesting things about the gods and their plans - that is really the only reason for reading this. But it is not a proper novel and none of the parts really hang together. Compare it to the superb plotting e.g. of Orca - and it's pretty disappointing. Brust completists - including me - will obviously read Tiassa and get something out of it, but new readers should start elsewhere. Also try his Broke-down Palace - the first one I read - a small masterpiece.
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on 21 February 2013
Steven Brust continues to delight and provoke his readers; Tiassa brings together an extraordinary juxtaposition not only of past and present heroes but also of past and present writing styles, reflecting the relative longevity of the characters. After all, if you expect to live for a thousand years then speaking in exceedingly lengthy sentences has no immediately obvious downside...
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on 2 May 2014
I've been a fan of Steven Brust for a long time, and he never disappoints. This is a wonderful series and I only regret that the earlier books are no longer available in single volumes. Maybe some reprints in the same size as Iorich and Tiassa with the same cover artist would be good?
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on 29 April 2013
The further adventures of Vlad, sorry love this series and this is a belter, more please Mr Brust. I can strongly recommend these books, especially to fantasy fans that have become a bit jaded with the genre.
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In case you care, I am usually pretty good at following complex, tangled-up narratives. But Steven Brust's latest Vlad Taltos fantasy, "Tiassa" had me scrambling back to the book's beginning multiple times. It has some deeply fascinating moments, solid action and some deliciously warped humor, but the narrative often feels like we're lost in a maze.

Several years in the past, Vlad became involved in a peculiar plot that involved spell-marked coins, a mysterious highwayman known as the Blue Fox, and a silver tiassa with sapphire eyes. And in the present, a reported threat of a Jenoine invasion causes the Empire to desperately seek the tiassa, believing that the gods-forged "device" can save them.

At first it seems to be in Vlad's possession -- and he's on the lam from the Jhereg, and nearly unfindable. But Cawti soon discovers that the entire threat is a devious plan of the Jhereg to kill her estranged husband. And soon Khaavren is hot on Vlad's trail...

The biggest problem with "Tiassa" is simple: it's all over the place. The narrative flips from first to third-person, the settings jump around, and even the time period shifts unexpectedly. So it's pretty easy to get completely lost just by something as simple as "When are we? Who is in the room? What's going on?"

Brust's style even changes from one part to another -- at first we're treated to Vlad Taltos' snarky lean style, but later there are chunks of narrative that are more old-timey and serious. And there are some that have little to do with the overall story at all. It's not BAD, but it's often confusing -- it's like a string of intertwined short stories got squished together into a single story.

However, those styles are also the saving grace of this book -- Brust has the rare knack for evoking a complex, intricate world, with all sorts of weird characters and subtle plots. And while the plot takes a few reads to fully understand, it's complex and full of weird twists and odd magic, as well as some answers to long-standing questions. That is what makes it a worthwhile addition to the series.

But when you pick up a Vlad Taltos book, you sort of expect... Vlad Taltos. He makes some cameos in this book, and much of the plot revolves around him but most of the time we're following Cawti, Khaavren or one of the supporting characters. They're all vibrant, engaging characters, but the book feels somehow hollow from the lack of Vlad's snarky wit and the absence of Loiosh.

"Tiassa" is a confusing muddle of a story with a backbone of intriguing plot -- and only Steven Brust's elaborate worldbuilding and strong writing keep it from being totally befuddling.
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