by Steven Brust
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
On his 1993 CD, "A Rose for Iconoclastes," Steven Brust released a short song with the self-explanatory title "War Is Bad." What Brust said in 2 minutes and 8 seconds in 1993, he now reiterates in 288 pages in the eighth Vlad Taltos novel, Dragon. In Brust's universe, the House of Dragon is the most warlike of all seventeen houses. Although a member of the House of Jhereg, Vlad's adventures have always brought him into contact with several Dragons, although never directly into a Dragon war. Brust changes that now.
Dragon is set midway through the series, after Taltos, in which Vlad walked the Paths of the Dead, but before Yendi, which fully sets Vlad up in the Jhereg. As with the other Vlad novels which take place prior to Vlad's falling out with the upper echelons of the Jhereg, Dragon is told in the first person. However, as Brust experimented with flashbacks in Orca, he continues to use flashbacks in Dragon. In this case, the flashbacks are not as disorienting because he maintains the same first-person narrator throughout the story.
Brust begins Dragon at the end, which Vlad in the middle of the ultimate battle of a war between his friend Morollan and another Dragonlord, Fornia. Although the beginnning of each chapter advances this storyline a little, Brust has Vlad get sidetracked in his recounting of the story in each chapter to explain how he came to be caught in the middle of a Dragon war. This is an interesting, if rare, literary device, but Brust manages to successfully pull it off. Unlike Orca, which jumped around enough to occassionally lose the reader, Dragon manages to tell Vlad's story in a coherent, and humorous manner.
One of the reasons Brust's complex manner of writing works in Dragon is because the plot is much more straight-forward than many of the previous Vlad novels. Although there are some behind-the-scenes Machiavellian maneuvering on the parts of the various Dragonlords, they really don't come to the forefront except in reasonably simplified explanations. This use of a basic plot allows Brust the leeway to experiment with story-telling style in the many he enjoys.
When Vlad accepts Morollan's offer to travel in one of the Dragon companies so Vlad can take revenge on Morollan's enemy, the Dragonlord Fornia, it is readily apparent to everyone except Vlad that he is going to find himself as much a grunt as the soldiers he is marching with. Most of Brust's humorous sequences deal with Vlad's coming to terms with the army life and learning to deal with Dragons who are not particularly thrilled to be in the company of a Jhereg.
Although Brust never departs from his "War is Bad" message, he also does not feel the need to show the brutality of war in detail. Men and women are killed and wounded throughout the book, including a few who have befriended Vlad, but there is very little sense of gore. Nevertheless, Brust is able to portray the terror and hardships of war throughout the novel.
Using Vlad as his narrator seems to allow Brust to regain much of the chatty style which is evident in so many of the early Vlad Taltos novels and which has been missing from the novels in which Vlad is not the narrator. For those readers who first began reading the series when Brust was just starting out, Dragon is a reminder of one of the reasons the books were so fresh and enjoyable: an intriguing writing style which welcomed the reader and made him feel like the author's and main character's friend.
A Rose for Iconoclastes is distributed by SteelDragon Press, Box 7253, Minneapolis, MN 55407, and well worth the cost. The album includes fourteen songs by Brust, many of which demonstrate the same sense of humor he uses in his writing. Of particular note are "I Was Born About Ten Million Songs Ago," a sort of combination of Barry Manilow's "I Write the Songs" and The Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil," the above mentioned "War Is Bad," and "Backward Message."
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