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Vlad Taltos story number Twelve: of lawyers and intrigue,
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This review is from: Iorich (Vlad Taltos Series) (Hardcover)
In which Vlad Taltos meets his son, tries to clear a friend who has been arrested on capital charges, and meets lawyers who, to his surprise, believe in justice. And in which we learn about the Dragaeran equivalent of the Chilcott inquiry ...
This entertaining comic fantasy novel is the twelfth published book in the story of Vladimir Taltos. Currently (August 2011) it is probably also the twelfth in chronological sequence. (The two are not always congruent in this series, as the time sequence jumps about a lot. The thirteenth book, "Tiassa" contains three linked stories set at different times, but it is my impression that the climax of "Tiassa" is set a little after "Iorich")
Since Vlad's son is eight years old at the time of this book, it must be set eight or nine years after Vlad goes on the run from the Jhereg "organisation" (Mafia) in the book "Phoenix". And as Vlad is carrying a very special sword called "Lady Teldra" we can deduce that it is set some time after the books "Issola (Vlad Taltos Series)" and "Dzur (Vlad Taltos Series)".
At the start of this book, Vlad Taltos learns that his friend Aliera has been arrested on capital charges. None of her other friends, from the Empress down, appear to be doing anything about it.
So despite the fact that "The Orgaisation" has put a huge price on his head, Vlad returns to the Imperial capital, Adrilankha city at the start of this book. Vlad knows that he is risking his life by doing this. He knows that the somebody is sure to eventually collect the contract which the Jhereg "Organisation" has put out on him. But as he explains to one of the other characters, when you have survived being caught up in battles between Gods, it is difficult to be as scared as you should be of mortal gangsters. This may be a mistake ...
In trying to clear Aliera, Vlad meets some of the lawyers of the House of the Iorich. He learns that when House Iorich is powerful enough to do so, members of this house try to make the courts reflect justice, and not just the government's convenience. He also discovers a web of intrigue and corruption, and meets his young son. (This book contains a flashback to Vlad's first meeting with his son, who was then four: during the main timeframe of the book they meet again, and the boy is now eight.)
The charges against Aliera may, or may not, be related to a massacre of Tecla peasants which has recently taken place while the empire was putting down a rebellion. As the Empire's warlord, the troops responsible were nominally under Aliera's command at the time. One of the Iorich characters in the story is heading up an investigation into this massacre, which appears to be the Dragaeran equivalent of the Chilcott Inquiry: most of the chapters of this book start with an extract from the documents relating to that inquiry.
As mentioned, the chronological sequence of the "Vlad Taltos" series jumps about all over the place, and 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 also make an argument for reading them in chronological sequence: this has never been published in any of the books, so here is a list of the books 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 is:
To give an example of the sort of detail you will miss if you read these books out of sequence: two important characters in the series are actually the same person. One of Vlad's oldest friends is really a cover identity, complete with magically disguised appearance and a whole network of friends and contacts, used by one of the most powerful figures in the Empire when she wishes to go somewhere incognito. Vlad is one of the very few people who knows "both" identities and it took him years before he figured it out in the book "Orca (Jhereg S.)". Stephen Brust had obviously planned this double identity right from the first book he published in this series twenty years ago - there are hints a lot stronger than the fact that the two characters are never seen together - but "Orca" is the only book where the fact that they are the same person is made explicit.
In "Iorich", Vlad meets this person in both her identities, and respects her wish to be treated as if they were two separate people. When he meets the "real" identity Vlad starts to ask her a question about it, but she quickly changes the subject. A few hours later he meets her in the other identity and she remarks that it's been years since they've met. In both cases Vlad goes along with the pretence, even though he knows both identities to be the same person, and she knows that Vlad knows. If you have read "Orca" this little comedy of manners and similar events in other books such as "Dzur" can be hysterically funny. The reader who has not read "Orca" is almost certain to completely miss it.
Steven Brust's "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 2,000 or 3,000 years or so, 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.
Morganti weapons are used between mortals when they are really angry with someone because they don't just kill you, but destroy your soul. "Great Weapons" are rare and particularly powerful Morganti weapons which can even harm Gods.
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 "Iorich," 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 tend to be soldiers. "Tecla" look like mice and symbolise cowardice and fertility: members of House Tecla are peasants. "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. The house of the Iorich epitomise justice and retribution, and the members of that house in this story are all judges or lawyers.
The hero, Baronet Vladimir Taltos, is an assassin and minor sorcerer, who used to be a prominent member of House Jhereg, but is now on the run from them after developing an unfortunate case of principles, which he tries very hard to hide. He has two companions, Loiosh and Rocza who are actual Jhereg - that is to say, they are small intelligent flying reptiles.
Another Dragaeran term used several times in "Iorich" which is never explained in this book but has been described elsewhere 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.
Taltos narrates these stories with a wonderful dry wit which is one of the best aspects of the novels.
If you enjoy the Taltos novels, you might be interested in another sequence of books which Steven Brust has set in the same country, but quite a few centuries earlier. These are something between a parody and a homage to the novels of Alexandre Dumas. He's called them the "Khaavren Romances" after the central character of the first two novels, who corresponds very closely to D'Artagnan. Obviously none of the human characters overlap, but some of the Dragaerans do: Khaavren himself meets Vlad Taltos briefly in "Tecla" and at much greater length in "Tiassa" which is almost an overlap volume merging the two series.
Two of the major characters in the Taltos novels, "Sethra Lavode" and Morrolan, The Lord of Castle Black," are also important enough in the Khaavren romances to have the books I have just linked to named after them.
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
Overall I found both the "Taltos" novels and the "Khaavren Romances" very entertaining: I recommend both series and this book.