Steven Brust
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Buy *Jhereg: The First Vlad Taltos Novel* online

Jhereg: The First Vlad Taltos Novel
Steven Brust
Ace Charter
February 1987
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Remember when fantasy used to be fun? The genre wasnít full of these door-stopper, epic fantasies that go on for thousands of pages with just a little bit of a point. Sure, those can be good now and then, and I actually like a few series, but I miss the times when you could pick up a fairly short novel and have a laugh or two. Yes, Discworld is still out there, and I believe Robert Asprin is still writing the ďMythĒ books, but what more?

Back in 1983, Steven Brust introduced us to Vlad Taltos, an assassin, a ďmobĒ boss (or the Dragaeran equivalent of one), and a human fish out of water. Heís the man with the dragon-like creature (called a Jhereg) on his shoulder, and heís good at what he does. The first book of the series was called Jhereg and gave us our first peek at Vladís world. Having finally read this book, I can truly say that it is great. Brustís characterizations shine through, and his wit is infectious. Iíve had this series recommended to me many times, and I regret having waited so long to start it.

Vlad is a human in a Dragaeran world, a citizen of the Empire whose father came from the East. In fact, his father spent most of the familyís money so that he could buy a title in the Empire - so Vlad would have a standing in it. The House, Jhereg, is more ďmobĒ-like than the rest of the houses, and Vlad quickly moves up the ranks to have his own territory. He has also made himself one of the best assassins out there, but he is quite surprised when another boss, called ďThe Demon,Ē hires him to kill one of the Jhereg higher-ups who has absconded with a great deal of the Houseís money. One condition: Vlad must do it quickly, before word gets out that somebody has done this to the Jheregs. Thereís also a hitch: the target in question has taken refuge in Castle Black, as a guest of Morrolan the Dragonlord. Morrolanís honor is strong enough that, once he has welcomed somebody as a guest, the guest is under his protection, no matter what. Vlad also finds that the case is even more complicated, reaching all the way back to the beginning of the Dragaeran Houses. Can Vlad succeed in time, without getting killed in the process?

The world Brust has created is very imaginative, and he doles out the information pieces at a time. Jhereg begins with a little about Vladís childhood and how he earned his Jhereg side-kick, Loiosh, and then gets right into the action. We slowly learn about Dragaeran society, how the Houses work, and how they interact. All of Vladís relationships are already established, including that with his wife, Cawti (the next book, Yendi, details how they met), so Brust takes us along for the ride, and we have to absorb everything as we go. I like that, as Brust is always clear enough that the reader is never really lost (though how the honor system works sometimes eluded me).

Vlad is the narrator of the series, thus his characterization is the most important. Thankfully, Brust nails him, giving us a likable protagonist who, occasionally, kills people for either money or because they crossed him, but thatís neither here nor there. The dialogue, especially between Vlad and Loiosh, is wonderful. His telling Loiosh to ďshut upĒ after a sarcastic comment can become tiresome, but it seems to be their shtick so one just gets used to it. I also loved Kragar, Vladís henchman, and would really like to know more about his story. He has a good relationship with his boss, but the funniest part about him is how heís so unnoticeable. The running gag in this series is how somebodyís looking for Kragar and heís right there sitting in front of them, without anybody having seen him come in. That joke may get old for some after a while, but I still find it hilarious each time it happens.

Jheregís plot is very lean, with no extraneous material taking up space and racking up the page count. Vladís dilemma is interesting, as he has to try and find a way to get Mellar out of Morrolanís house without using magic and without killing him in Castle Black. When the plot expands even more and the risk of a great war between the Jheregs and the Dragons because of this killing rears its ugly head, the plot gets even more intense. Vladís loyalties are tested as he is good friends with (and works for) Morrolan, so he will not carry out any assassination that will hurt Morrolanís honour - which unfortunately makes Vlad a target for assassination as well. The twists and turns in the story make it unpredictable, and the way sorcery and witchcraft (in this world, there is a difference) work, along with some of the magical Great Weapons that are about, makes the ending unpredictable. Thankfully, Brust doesnít pull the ending out of left field, though, setting it up nicely beforehand.

The only fault I found with this book, and itís my own preference more than anything else, is that Iím getting tired of the ďletís create an intricate plan that involves lots of people, sit down and be briefed on what everybody needs to do, then carry it outĒ sequences. They just annoy me. I call it the ďLetís have a meeting and then execute the planĒ formula. Always, one thing (maybe two) goes wrong, they have to improvise, and they end up succeeding anyway. Itís so predictable as to be maddening. Then again, this book is over twenty years old, so Iíll grant it a waiver.

Jhereg is an excellent beginning to the Vlad Taltos series. If you like your fantasy a little fun, this is a great one to pick up.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Dave Roy, 2005

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