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Vlad Taltos novel 13: brings together Vlad, Khaavren and their families,
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This review is from: Tiassa (Vlad Taltos) (Hardcover)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:
However, if the three main stories in this novel had been published as separate books, this order would be:
iv) Tag (within Tiassa)
xiii) Whitecrest (within Tiassa)
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.