Audio readers, rejoice! Finally, Steven Brust’s VLAD TALTOS novels have been produced in audio by Audible Frontiers. For years I’ve been planning to read this long series and have only been waiting for this moment.
The VLAD TALTOS novels follow Vlad Taltos, a well-known and highly successful human assassin living on the planet Dragaera. The native species, the Dragaerans, are a tall long-lived race created by sorcerers who cross-bred humans and certain animals. The characteristics of the animals give each clan, or “House,” its name, physical features, and personality traits. The exception is the house of Jhereg (named after a small dragon-like creature) which is a low-class conglomerate of outcasts from other clans and also any true humans who can buy their way in, which is what Vlad Taltos’ father did. Each of Brusts’ novels in this series is named after one of the Dragaeran houses.
In this first installment, Jhereg, we meet Vlad Taltos and his familiar, Loiosh, the jhereg who can communicate with him through mind-speech. Vlad has been hired to kill a councilman named Mellar who has embezzled a huge sum of money from the Jhereg council. When Vlad catches up with Mellar, he discovers him hiding out in Castle Black, the floating mansion of Vlad’s friend, the Dragonlord Morrolan. Castle Black’s rule of hospitality is that anyone who has been invited to stay at the castle cannot be touched and nobody wants to violate this law because it would ignite another Dragon-Jhereg war. The last war devastated both houses. Vlad and Loiosh must flush out Mellar without offending a Dragonlord or starting a war. This is not an easy task and Vlad will need to solve a mystery and get a little help from his friends.
Jhereg is appealing for several reasons. Vlad Taltos is a great character — the sort of honorable criminal that you can’t help but like. It helps that in Brust’s world, an assassination isn’t necessarily permanent. People can be revivified if their body is still mostly intact and they haven’t had their soul destroyed by a Morganti weapon (somewhat like Elric’s sword). Vlad is clever and must use his brain, not just his weapons or witchcraft, to solve his dilemma (though I thought he solved the convoluted mystery a little too easily). Vlad’s friends are also likeable, especially Loiosh the familiar, Vlad’s wife (who he met when she tried to kill him), and a female Dragonlord. Brust’s female characters are strong, smart, and competent.
Steven Brust’s writing style, sense of humor, and dialogue are also pleasant, and the story moves quickly. There’s a lot to learn in the first novel of a huge epic, but Brust does this so well. We learn a little about Vlad’s childhood, the planet of Dragaera, the origin and structure of the houses (this was fascinating), and anything else we need to know. Brust gives us just enough extra to make us curious about his world, but not enough to make the plot slow down while we learn the entire history of Dragaera and its residents. (Yet, Brust’s world is so complex and detailed that some readers may wish for an online resource such as this helpful Wikipedia entry, and several fan-made Dragaera sites that you can easily find with a Google search.)
Audible Frontiers’ version was narrated by Bernard Setaro Clark. He was terrific, speaking with a lively manner and giving each character a pleasant and distinct voice. As usual, I had to speed up the narration a bit (I’m beginning to suspect that Audible has purposely slowed down their narrators). I’m pleased to see that Bernard Setaro Clark has also narrated the sequels and I’ll be picking up book 2, Yendi, which is actually a prequel to Jhereg, very soon. I look forward to spending more time with Vlad Taltos.