The Taltos books (due to reading up to Jhegaala)

During the autumn I read the last instalment in Stephen Brust's Vlad Taltos series: Jhegaala. Again I put off the review due to work and life, but when I started to write it up this morning I realised that I should probably write up a bit on the whole book series as this is the 11th book. Thus this is more a review of the complete series up to Jhegaala more than on that specific book.

The books tells the life of said Vlad Taltos and is set in a very intriguing futuristic fantasy world. Humans are a minority in the mighty Dragaeran empire where most of the books are set. Vladimir Taltos is one of the few humans (called easterners by the Dragaerans - who logically consider themselves human - though considered 'elfs' by the easteners [our kind of human]) not living the life of a second class citizen. He is an assassin when the series start; working for one of the houses of said empire. The series of books follow his life and deeds.

Does this sound like a standard fantasy introduction to you? Yes, I realize that. It probably is! But it is pure entertainment. One of the reasons why I am reluctant to read fiction is not that I consider it a waste of time, but because some fiction books can get me hooked. Hooked in a very unhealthy way. This happened a lot when I was a child and teenager. I remember reading Robin Hood, Treasure island, and The Hobbit in class by sneaking them among my school books (and imagining that my teacher did not see. I guess she did, but figured that it was better that I was reading than staring out of the window daydreaming - my other main occupation during classes at that time). As a teenager I used to stay up very, very late reading. I just could not put down the book until it was done. I developed an interest in other things as self preservation one could say.

Anyway, the Taltos series hooks me in that way. My friend Bastian borrowed me the first couple of books for a weekend a few years back. I read both in one session. Then begged him for the rest, and have been following it since.

What get me so focused on the Taltos books is mostly the way the world is presented, that Brust hints at future events and build a world structure that is more interfered by the reader than actually outspoken. Something alike the planting of clues by Rowling in the Harry Potter books of, or the conjuring of a (almost) stringent - though fantastic - Discworld by Pratchett. Not that the style of the Vlad Taltos books are anything like, or even a combination, of those two bodies of work, but they are probably books read by many, so you will get my meaning. Brust has his very own style. Or should I say styles, because it keeps changing, especially between the early books. It is like Brust is trying out different ways of telling the stories, writing in different narrative modes, and borrowing from many genres.

This could give the impression that the books are somewhat unpolished, however I believe it an illusion; Brust is merely trying out styles and paying homage to the classic literature that inspired him. From detective stories, and pulp crime fiction, to classic adventure stories e.g. The three musketeers. Of course it is impossible that all books have the same quality, and in my view a few of them are not as compelling as the others (though still good). The funny thing is that it seem that other friends that have read the books does agree on this, but not on which books we like more or less. Guess that is a good sign.

You are probably somewhat annoyed that I said so little of the story up until now. I just do not know what to tell you without giving too much away. The series is up to 11 books now, and counting (with the addition of a few other works by Brust set in the same world). It is far from finished, but there is no direct epic theme or quest set through the whole volume, as in for instance Jordan's The Wheel of time. There is simply stories, and episodes from Vlad's (very exciting and adventurous) life, but during the course of the books one start to sense something bigger in the background. That is what make it so thrilling.

I could not say if Brust planned it this way or if he just make it up as he goes, but in any case it is quite entertaining. And entertainment is the word best describing the books. Rarely does he comment on our own world (as the tradition is in Science Fiction) or, as stated above, set up a multi-volume epic quest in the first books (as is too common in fantasy). Simply said the only major quest line is the mental development of Vladimir Taltos. Brust writes in a way that entertain, stimulates my need to see something bigger working in the background, and at the same time make me enjoy the reading quite some.

So, just now I managed to write quite a bit of text after reading Jhegaala, without saying anything of the book itself. Just about the series, and I haven't even said what that is about! Sad I know. Well, I just can not without giving some of the story away. Vlad travel east to the land of humans, outside the empire. This is due to some events that happened in some earlier books, but before some others that has already been told as well, and does explain some things hinted at in those books.

Don't go an buy it just yet though. Or rather do that, but then also buy the 10 previous books as well and read them in the order they were published (this is often a topic of argument when it comes to the Taltos books as they are not published in chronological order, though I do insist that you read them in the order they were published. The first book, Jhereg, was published already in 1983, but has since then been reprinted as part of the collection of the first three books bearing almost the same name. Might be a good place to start. Work your way forward in publication order from there (and don't expect Teckla [unrelated this is not one of my favorites], the last part of the Jhereg collection, to conclude anything - the story continues, you need to read the rest of the books as well).

Finally: I can not remember if this is the case in all books, but some of my memories of the last few books is Brust's uncanny talent for describing food and cooking. I have never been so hungry for proper food while reading before, nor so close to ever start drinking coffee.