Worlds & Time

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Iorich by Steven Brust

It so happens that when I won the present of a book from Tor.com a while ago, instead of a copy of a book currently in print I requested and received an advance copy of a book that was not yet out: Iorich by Steven Brust.

This was particularly kind of Tor.com and especially Torie Atkinson for allowing me such a privilege and her secret source for making my Brust dreams come true.

I try to do reviews of books that I get in advance of their publications such as Little Brother, Julian Comstock, and Ender in Exile and so this is my review of Iorich by Steven Brust (2010).

Just be aware though that reviewing Iorich has massive spoilers for other Vlad Taltos novels, up to and including Iorich itself. Got that? This post contains massive Iorich spoilers.

First off, Iorich is better than Jhegaala. Don't get me wrong, I liked Jhegaala, but it wasn't anywhere close to the top of the Vlad Taltos cannon. Iorich is definitely a good Vlad book but it does have a few minor flaws.

With all of his books, Brust switches back and forth with his writing style and Iorich is a bit sparse in the wordplay compared with some of the other books. The way that Dzur focused on lavish descriptions of food and Jhereg focused on, well, the ceremony of jheregs, this book uses a legal situation as chapter leads and general tone. Thus, Iorich's style is direct and to the point, almost like reading a legal brief. This which works out fairly well for it but there are a few bits that seem tangential and thrown together, notably the elements of Vlad's personal life that appear.

Also, after Jhegaala, I was hoping for a bit more high flying action, flashy sorcery, and world threatening danger. This wasn't that type of Vlad novel, but I have to say that this type of Vlad novel is my second favorite.

Let me explain my weird theory about the types of Vlad novels which has been kicking around in my head for a while.

There are three types of Vlad novels, complicated by the fact that some novels, particularly Taltos are comprised of two or more of these types. I think these types are: 1, "Early Vlad" novels that deal mostly with Vlad's career in the Jhereg and the establishment of his area; 2, Questing novels revolving mostly around some task set by Sethra, Morrolan, or Verra and progresses the metaplot involving the gods; and 3, Politics novels in which Vlad gets to explore some particular facet of politics or society, usually at the expense of his social life.

Iorich fits solidly into the third kind of Vlad novel, following a similar structure to Orca. Where Orca was about the way trade and banking have an effect on people, Iorich is about dealing with the way the legal system fuctions, especially with regard to nobility and rank. It is set some number of years after Dzur, and apparently several years since Vlad has seen many of the major characters of the series, and is set predominantly in and around the Imperial Palace.

The general plot of the novel is that Aliera has been arrested by the Empress for the practice of Elder Sorcery, even though the Empire has been turning a blind eye to her practice (and Morrolan's, and Sethra's, and one suspects dozens of others) for many years. When Vlad hears about her arrest he rushes back to Adrilankha and begins to arrange for her defense despite the protests of Aliera herself while trying to keep himself alive from the Jhereg assassins that are still trying to kill him eight (nine?) years after the events of Phoenix.

There is, of course, a complicated and twisted reason for her imprisonment that basically boils down to Empire politics. To me, the twisted reasoning is a bit weak, but by the end I can certainly understand why the characters did what they thought they were doing, with the possible exception of Zerika's behavior toward Aliera which still is a bit of a headbanger.

So Vlad, in his efforts to clear Aliera's name in much the same way that he cleared Cawti's, is thrown into the middle of Empire politics again. Really, he almost should have been a private eye instead of an assassin, because his investigative skills shine in the midst of a high level political thriller.

As I've already mentioned, dealing with these things leads him to spend quite a bit of time in the Palace and dealing with some of the most important people in the Empire. Norathar features prominently and so does Zerika herself, the Empress putting in the most face time of any Vlad novel and seemingly almost as much as her roles in the Viscount of Adrilankha.

My favorite parts of this book involve the Empress, especially the section with the five steps. Just after that, in terms of favoritism, is the resolution at the end which really does work out nicely if you understand what's going on. Vlad's introduction to the new character of Perisil is also very nicely done.

Older characters also appear in this book, sometimes just as minor characters and sometimes as mere suggestions (if you're a big fan, you'll know the line I'm talking about when you come to it, personally I laughed out loud on the Boston T and got lots of weird looks). It's nice to see some of them, but I really want to see the resolution of the Phoenix affair. It's been a long time coming but there are suggestions that it's coming to a head.

That's really the best part of the Vlad books though. Even though each books stands on it's own and carries it's own weight and finishes with a satisfying resolution, there's a larger plot that progresses along as well. Not only do you feel good about the book that you've read but you can pick up bits and pieces from other books that fit together and provide another kind of satisfaction. The Vlad books, and the Khaavren Romances, for that matter, were meant to be read as a long, wonderful series, and I'm so very happy to have been given the chance to read this latest volume.

I want to end with a brief quote from the book, just a paragraph. But hopefully it will interest Brust fans enough to go out and buy it. A warning, it may have a few serious spoilers for the end of the book:

"I pulled the arrow from my eye, hearing myself scream. At that moment, a blast of magic from one of them hit me, and I saw my leg fly off at the knee. I fell to the ground, reaching for Lady Teldra, but one of them came in with an ax and took my right hand off at the wrist . . ."


* * *

Here's a link to the Amazon page for Iorich. If you haven't read any of the others, I recommend starting with Jhereg to see if you like the style (it is unfortunately only easily available as part of the Book of Jhereg right now). I plan on buying Iorich when it's released in a few months anyway because it is quite wonderful and I want to support Steven Brust's further writing.

Update: Tor.com's review is here.

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3 Comments:

  • Heh. That's an evil choice of quote.

    (I read an early draft, and wasn't sure he was going to leave that section in.)

    By Blogger AlexxKay, at 1:47 PM  

  • Was it the mention of Papacat that made you laugh?


    I also thought the rationale behind Aliera's arrest was weak. The weakest moment, however, in the entire book was his method of identifying the baddie. It could have just been some innocent guy being helpful.

    By Blogger Dave, at 4:46 AM  

  • It actually was the uncertainty about the Prime Minister.

    Yeah, the identification was weak. I'll agree there. Although, as he said, he didn't necessarily have to have the correct person.

    By Blogger Spherical Time, at 11:12 AM  

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