by Steven Brust
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Eventually, Steven Brust appears ready to publish nineteen novels about Vlad Taltos, the anti-hero first introduced in Jhereg in 1983. One of the interesting aspects of this series, of which the most recent novel, Jhegaala, is the eleventh, is that Brust feels comfortable moving backwards and forwards in time, to look at Taltosís life at different stages. Jhegaala, for instance is set several years before its immediate predecessor, Dzur, shortly after Vladís separation from his wife, Cawti and the need to get far from the Jhereg crime organization.
Jhegaala is a search for roots, as Vlad begins by visiting his grandfather, Noish-pa, who provides him with clues as to the identity of Vladís long dead mother, Noish-país daughter-in-law. With the Jhereg potentially on his trail, Vlad decides to visit his motherís native town in Fenario and try to learn something about his past. Naturally, things donít go smoothly for Vlad and he finds the village of Burz interesting, with its strange triumvirate of rulers: The Coven, The Guild, and the Count. His interest is intensified when he learns that nobody will tell him how the relationship between the three powers works.
Being away from his home turf in Adrilankha, Vlad must do his detective work himself, although he is aided by the jheregs Loiosh, and Rocza. The time, shortly after he found himself on the outs with the Jhereg and bereft of his organization in Adrilankha, means that Vlad isn't as smooth as he would become in the novels which are set later, and Brust does a good job of showing a more immature Vlad than the one he has been describing in recent novels.
Despite Vlad being laid up for a significant portion of the novel, and the fact that he is responding to events as often as he is initiating them, Brust makes sure that his character is central to all the activity in Burz after his arrival. If he isnít initiating action against the Coven, the Count, or the Guild, they are responding to the threat they perceive Vlad to be. Furthermore, Vlad is more on his own in Jhegaala than in most of the novels. Not only is he separated from Adrilankha, but also from his vast variety of Dragaeran allies.
One of Brustís strengths is his ability to depict Vlad at various times of his life, showing his insecurities and strengths as they wax and wane as the dictates of the storyís period necessitate. At the same time, Vlad remains a sympathetic and likable anti-hero throughout the books. Jhegaala presents him as an anti-hero alone against the world, but even when he is acting less than honorably, the reader still roots for him and the characters he comes into contact with have a tendency to like him, on a personal level even if their professional needs require that they not strike up a camaraderie with him.Perhaps one of the most fish-out-of-water novels in the Taltos cycle so far, Jhegaala returns Vlad to his roots in more ways than one. The most obvious is his quest for his kin, but also by looking back in time, Vlad is not yet aware of the Jenoine, putting him in a world still complex, but a simplified version of that world, and allowing Brust to focus on his character.
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