HAWK

by Steven Brust

Tor

978-0-7653-2444-3

320pp/$24.99/October 2014

Hawk
Cover by Stephen Hickman

Reviewed by Steven H Silver


Long on the run from the Jhereg, the criminal organization to which he once belonged, Vlad Taltos has come up with a cunning plan to, if not get into their good graces, at least to have the Jhereg call of the hit on him in Hawk, by Steven Brust. The impetus for Vladís plan comes less from his exhaustion at being on the run since the events of Phoenix, and more from his desire to be able to spend time with his son, Vlad Norathar.

The stories Brust tells n which Vlad is not in the city of Adrilankha always have the feel of a fish out of water. In Hawk, he not only returns to the Imperial capital, but finds himself in his old office, from which his one-time assistant, Kragar, now oversees Vladís former territory. With a massive price on Vladís head, Kragar;s personal loyalty is never an issue, although thoere is the constant threat that one of Kragarís people will get greedy and sell out Vlad.  Nevertheless, Vlad fits this setting better than the world he has inhabited in many of the novels.

Unfortunately for Vlad, it isnít just Kragarís men he must watch out for, as every Jhereg in the city hopes to collect the reward for Vladís soul.  The attempts range from the clumsy and obvious to the magical and complex, even as Vlad works on the deal that would result in his freedom from living under the Jhereg death sentence.

Much of the novel is spent focusing on the negotiations between Vlad and the Jhereg and his attempts to prepare himself for his eventual meeting and demonstration.  Vlad clearly has a plan for every contingency, but he, and Brust, keep the readers and Vlad's compatriots in the dark about the details.  Instead, Vlad collects an incredibly random sampling of items from his allies, ranging from the Wand of Ucerics, which could help Vlad stay awake, to a euphonium, a musical instrument.  Until they are actually used, however, the reader has no clue what they are all for.  Vlad further describes which ones win up not being needed, foreshadowing his eventual plan without actually giving anything away.

In actuality, aside from a few assassination attempts, very little happens in Hawk, but it doesn't matter.  The book rests, and succeeds, on the basis of Vlad's character and Brust's writing. Vlad is, and has always been, a highly engaging character, even when he has demonstrated what could be considered sociopathic tendencies.  He is, in fact, an anti-hero, a fact which is often overlooked in Brust's stories since most of the novels in the series are told from Vlad's point of view.  Part of this is that the reader is privy to the rationalizations which go into his decisions to, for instance, kill Terion, a rival Jhereg, most of which come down to a desire to maintain his own survival or those of loved ones.  Brust's writing draws the reader in with its mock-self-narrative style and wit, hiding more elaborate stylistic choices behind a seemingly transparent writing style.

Brust's Taltos novels are all written so they can stand on their own, but also fit into a larger narrative.  With thirteen of these novels published, Hawk, the fourteenth, does show that knowledge of the previous books, while not necessary, is useful in recognizing all of the characters and their relationship to Vlad. Even without that knowledge, Hawk is a very enjoyable novel, but it does suggest that fans of Brust's writing might want to take the time to re-read the series so far, partly to refamiliarize themselves with it and partly to look for the clues that Brust has scattered throughout the novels, not an onerous task by any defintion.


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