fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsIssola by Steven Brust fantasy audiobook reviewsIssola by Steven Brust

I miss the days when I used to be nostalgic.” ~Vlad Taltos

I’ve been slightly disappointed with the last few novels in Steven Brust’s VLAD TALTOS series, but with Issola, book 9, Brust returns to what I liked about the earlier books. While I admired Brust’s willingness to experiment with his world, his characters, and especially the narrative structure of his novels, I think he’s best when the overall plot is moving forward and Vlad is using his assassin skills to solve mysteries and help his powerful Dragonlord friends.

In Issola, we’re back to a present timeline. Vlad and Cawti are separated but Vlad is starting to recover from the funk he’s been in for quite a while now. He’s been run out of his organization and is hiding from them in the woods. Then Lady Teldra (an Issola who is servant to the Dragonlords Morollan and Aliera) shows up to tell him that Morollan and Aliera have disappeared and may have been kidnapped by extra-dimensional godlike beings called the Jenoine. Vlad isn’t sure what he can do to help, but he does have a weapon that might be useful, so he and Loiosh return to Castle Black to hunt for their friends. It’s good to be back in Castle Black which floats in the sky and has rooms that go to unknown places. It’s through one of these that Vlad must look for his friends.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsIn Issola we learn a lot more about Vlad’s world — who made it, how some of the magic and sorcery work, what the orb is made of and what it does, what the great weapons are for, how to make a great weapon (this was cool), more about Morollan and Aliera, what Sethra Levode’s role in the empire is, what Vlad’s magical chain can do, how his world is in danger from outside forces, etc. Some of this feels tacked on since it’s the first time (in nine books) that we’ve heard of it, but that didn’t bother me too much since these novels have a breezy feel to them. We also learn a lot about the Issola in this novel. Their nature is to be courteous and diplomatic, which gives Vlad a chance to meditate on the usefulness of these personality traits and to compare them to the more aggressive Dragons. (As a psychologist, I always enjoy this part of Vlad’s ruminations.)

As I said before, the best part about Issola is that Vlad is back to his witty sarcastic self, which is a welcome change after watching him brood for three novels. It’s amusing to listen to Vlad and Loiosh’s internal dialogue:

“I like to read about history, not make it.”

“You see, Boss? It’s because of attitudes like yours that there are so few human heroes.”

“And so many humans.”


At the end of Issola, Vlad has a different outlook on life and his world has changed dramatically. I look forward to finding out what comes next in book 10, Dzur. By the way, I love Audible Studio’s versions of the VLAD TALTOS books. Bernard Setaro Clark is now THE voice of Vlad Taltos for me — I think he’s wonderful. Issola is 8.5 hours long on audio.


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.