Steven Brust’s Jhegaala
Tor (300 pages, $24.95, July 2008)
Reviewed by Bill Ward
The world of epic fantasy has its Martins, Jordans, and Eriksons, writers at the helm of long-running series with massively convoluted plots and hundreds of characters — and, quite often, no end in sight. But when compared to Steven Brust’s Taltos novels, which debuted in 1983, these long-running epics are Johnny-come-latelys, part of a newer way of packaging fantasy fiction that began with Robert Jordan in the early nineties and shows no signs of abating. Jhegaala is the eleventh book chronicling the adventures of the clever and cynical rogue Vlad Taltos, a character whom Brust has been writing about for twenty-five years in a series that hearkens back to an earlier mode of serial fantasy, the episodic sword and sorcery tale.
Which means, unlike with epic fantasy, a reader can pick up a book in the middle of Brust’s series and not have to worry about needing a wealth of prior plot and exposition to understand it. Jhegaala is perhaps an even better example of this than some of Brust’s prior books, as it takes place completely out-of-context chronologically and geographically with the rest of the series. Vlad, on the run from his own House and exiled from his home city of Adrilankha, travels to his ancestral homeland in the East. There, among his own kind in the town of Burz, he stumbles into the paranoid world of local powers, and begins to unravel a mystery that involves a pervasive guild, a coven of witches, and the ruler of the region himself.