Athyra is the sixth book in Steven Brust’s VLAD TALTOS series. If you haven’t read the previous books, you should probably skip this review until you’ve read Phoenix so that I don’t spoil its plot for you. I’m listening to Bernard Setaro Clark’s narration of the audio versions (Audible Studios) of VLAD TALTOS. Athyra is 8.5 hours long on audio, though I increased the playback speed, as I always do, so it was shorter than that for me. Bernard Setaro Clark’s narration continues to be excellent and I recommend the audio format for this series.
I mentioned in my review of Phoenix that Vlad had come to a turning place in his life. Because of what he did in that story, Vlad has left Adrilankha and is now out in the world on his own (except that he has his jhereg familiars, Loiosh and Rocza). Vlad betrayed the Jhereg organization and turned over his positions to Kragar, his assistant, and Cawti, his wife from whom he is now separated. He wears a chunk of phoenix stone that makes him psychically invisible to the assassins who pursue him.
After traveling for a couple of years, Vlad arrives in the town of Smallcliff where a resident has just been murdered. Because he’s a stranger, and an Easterner, Vlad is a potential suspect. As Vlad begins investigating the unusual murder, he realizes that the town’s Baron is an undead necromancer and a former enemy who may be working with Vlad’s current enemies. He needs to get rid of this guy before the Baron helps the Jhereg assassins find him. Vlad gets some help from a local boy named Savn, an apprentice to the town’s doctor. And, of course, Loiosh and Rocza are pretty useful, too.
Frankly, I thought Athyra was a little boring. Most of the story is told from the point of view of Savn and I found him to be a dull narrator. For me (and, I assume, many of Brust’s fans), the best part of this series is Vlad’s witty ironic voice, and we don’t get much of that in Athyra. It is kind of interesting to see how someone else perceives Vlad (we usually get only his thoughts on this), but Savn is a sheltered child and sometimes naïve, and he doesn’t make a dynamic storyteller. He often relates long passages in which he is harvesting flax, walking into town, or reading medical texts. Boring.
Another point of view character is, surprisingly, Rocza the jhereg. Her mind is rather blank and we see that she thinks of Vlad as merely “the provider” who she must obey because Loiosh wants her to. I thought it was daring for Brust to experiment with voice and structure in Athyra, especially knowing that his fans like Vlad’s voice. But while I admired the way he changed things up, I found that I really wished to be listening to Vlad instead of Savn and Rocza. I also missed Vlad’s friends and the decadent city of Adrilankha in this novel.
The Athyrans, the house for which this book is named, are philosophers, so Vlad and Savn spend a lot of time talking about philosophy. This is a topic I usually enjoy thinking about, but Vlad’s lessons about how to discover truth and knowledge were at a level suitable for Savn, an uneducated peasant boy, so I found these discussions to be uninspiring and a little trite.
I’m not giving up on Vlad Taltos. I can tell that Brust is experimenting here, and I approve of that, but I hope he’ll return to the type of stories found in the earlier books. As a personal favor, I’d like to offer Mr. Brust my #1 tip for taking care of children because I think it might apply to taking care of developing stories as well: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Well, drat! I want to read the review but I haven’t read any of the books yet. What to do, what to do…
Well, if you haven’t read ANY of the book yet, you probably won’t remember this review, or which book it’s for, when you get around to it. So go ahead. :)
Yeah, this was a really poor entry in the series.