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The Book of Athyra
Steven Brust
Ace, 436 pages


Ciruelo Cabral
The Book of Athyra
Steven Brust
Steven Brust was born in 1955. His writing includes the Vlad Taltos series (others are Jhereg, Yendi, Teckla, Taltos, Phoenix, and Orca), The Phoenix Guards, 500 Years After, To Reign in Hell, Brokedown Palace, The Sun the Moon and the Stars, Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille, The Gypsy (with Megan Lindholm) and Agyar. He also has done some short fiction in the Liavek series edited by Will Shetterly and Emma Bull. He lives in Minneapolis.

Steven Brust Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Paths of the Dead
SF Site Review: The Book of Taltos
SF Site Review: Issola
Steven Brust Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

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In this omnibus trade paperback, we get the complete texts to two books of the amazing Vlad Taltos series, Athyra and Orca. In a way, the fact that both of these books are together is very important, as the first introduces a main character for both, creating a back story that is absolutely essential for the second.

In Athyra we meet Savn. The son of a flax farmer who is training to become a physicker, he has no idea of the impact that a chance meeting with a strange Easterner will have on his life. That Easterner, Vlad Taltos, has simply been wandering, and is surprised to find that these wanderings have brought him close to Baron Smallcliff, one of the many people who seem to want to kill him. Fortunately, Vlad's body is not the one that turns up. Reins, a cart driver known to everyone, is found dead of unknown circumstances. Even though there's no sign of a wound or a spell, Vlad is blamed, and the ensuing manhunt will draw Savn in despite his own mistrust for the stranger.

The results of this search will include a key point to the next story. Even though it must be included, it constitutes a major spoiler. (If you like, you can skip this paragraph.) Savn survives the fight with Smallcliff, but the shock from the weapon he wielded has put him into a sort of walking coma. He doesn't speak, or react. He'll follow you if you call him, eat if you put food in front of him, and little else. Vlad, grateful to him for saving his life and guilty for the fact Savn's life is now, hopefully temporarily, ruined, takes him away from his small village. In his travels to get Savn cured, he is told of an old lady who lives in a heinous blue cottage. When he gets there, he discovers that the sorceress will help. Vlad, to pay her back, will try and find away to keep the foreclosers from kicking her off her land. He realizes that it must somehow be tied to the death of the Baron Fyres, who owns the lands. But was his death an accident, or a murder? And why does the empire seem to be intent on covering the whole thing up? Hopefully, with the help of the master Kiera, he'll be able to find out.

Steven Brust has a masterful way of telling a tale. He doesn't go at it the same way each time, but instead finds new angles for the perspective. In Athyra, the story is told by Savn. We never get into our main character's mind, really, we just see Vlad through Savn's eyes, and the view isn't always flattering.

In Orca, we have an entirely different way. Kiera is telling the story to Cawti, who you may remember is Vlad's beloved, but estranged, wife. So, they're sitting in a place discussing this story, which is told sometimes from her perspective, sometimes from Vlad's as he tells her what he's learned from the investigation. So, while this story comes to us third hand, it is as richly told as if it were first. And, most of the time you don't even remember that Kiera is telling the story, save for the occasional interlude where Cawti asks a question or makes a comment. It is very likely the same one we're asking or thinking ourselves. It puts Cawti with us in the audience. Because of these very different perspectives, we get a very intimate and complete portrait of Vlad. Mind you, with the other Vlad Taltos books, we would have an even better one. But I think that, seeing Vlad from the point of view of a distrustful and naive young man, we get to consider our character in a light that most series don't allow for. It all proves that Vlad is a solid serial character, a brilliant and patient detective, a reckless and dashing rogue. With the jhereg (imagine small dragnonettes) Rocza and Loiosh, he seems undefeatable.

(As an aside, Brust uses the two jhereg to create another interesting set of perspectives. In the first book, Rocza is the jhereg we hear from, though her thoughts are very different, centered around her mate, very instinctual and animal-like, though no less intelligent. Which makes for a shock, when in the next book we hear Loiosh's thoughts, as barbed and sarcastic as his provider's, and often more sensible.)

It is impossible not to get lost in this world. There is a mixture of mystery as well as fantasy, a cast of infectious characters, and a setting that is at once completely drawn and filled with possibilities. The pairing of Athyra and Orca is perfect, giving you nuances and connections that you may never have made if you read them apart.

Copyright © 2003 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at www.apenandfire.com.


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