Orca: Brust is still playing around with voice and structure

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsOrca by Steven Brust epic fantasy audiobook reviewsOrca by Steven Brust

Orca is the seventh book in Steven Brust’s VLAD TALTOS series. It’d be best to stop here if you haven’t read the previous books. We don’t want to spoil anything, do we?

Okay, so you should recall that Vlad Taltos, everyone’s favorite Jhereg assassin, is wanted by his organization because he betrayed them in order to save his wife from the executioner’s ax (or whatever implement the executioners in Dragaera use). Vlad has given up his territory and is on the run. In the last book, Athyra, he met a boy named Savn who helped him defeat a necromancer. Because Savn used a Morganti weapon to kill the bad guy, Savn is now witless, and he’s been that way for a year. Feeling responsible for Savn’s condition, Vlad finds a woman who may be able to heal him. In return, Vlad will try to find and stop the person who is trying to get the woman kicked off her land. He’ll need help from his friend Kiera, Dragaera’s most famous thief. Together they will uncover an extensive plot that involves a murdered financier, collapsing banks, the empire’s Minister of the Treasury, and even the Jhereg organization that is trying to assassinate Vlad.

As with the last novel, Athyra, Steven Brust is once again playing around with voice and structure. Fortunately we’re back to Vlad’s first person POV, but this time Brust also adds Kiera’s first person POV. This is the first time we’ve had a first person account that wasn’t Vlad. (In Athyra we had a third person POV from Savn’s perspective). Also, when Kiera talks, she is relating the story to Cawti, Vlad’s estranged wife, who she has met in a tavern after these events occurred. Vlad is often relating his story to Kiera and vice versa. So, often we get Kiera telling Cawti what she told Vlad that she did during the day and then telling Cawti what Vlad told her that he did all day. This sounds a little confusing, but it’s not really. Brust handles it well.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsBrust has also been gradually changing Vlad’s personality. Since the end of Phoenix, Vlad has been a bit depressed due to being alone and separated from his wife and friends. I miss Vlad’s vibrancy and sense of humor, but this (temporary, I hope) period of depression makes sense after what he’s been through. Could Brust also be preparing us for a career change for Vlad? In Orca, our famous assassin has become a forensic accountant who tries to help an old lady keep her land.

While I like this more gentle and noble side of Vlad, I thought the convoluted financial plot of Orca just wasn’t much fun. Almost the entire plot involves Vlad and Kiera investigating a banking scam and trying to figure out who’s involved, how far-reaching it is, and what it means for the woman who’s trying to help Savn. To do this, they look at public records, sneak into offices to steal papers, go through papers for clues, meet people and pretend they know what’s going on so that others will spill information, tell each other what they’ve found and try to work it out together, etc. Maybe it’s just my personality, but I thought this was boring (although there were some bright spots such as when Vlad tries to swagger in a wig and platform shoes). Keep in mind that we’re hearing Kiera tell the story to Cawti after it all happened, so the events feel slightly removed from the present and some of the tension is removed, too. Also, it’s one of those types of mysteries that there’s no way the reader can figure out. We just have to watch Vlad and Kiera make wild guesses and eventually hit upon the right ones. This is not very exciting to me, but other readers may enjoy it.

I am not certain that Brust’s magical system is consistent in each book. Especially the rules for when and why teleporting should not be used. I don’t think this has been dealt with the same way in each book. I’m willing to overlook this, though, especially since I’m not certain.

At the very end of Orca, a couple of huge revelations are made. If you’re a fan of the series, you probably don’t want to miss these. They’re big.

A word about the audiobook version: Because Orca has two first person POVs — one from Vlad and one from Kiera — Audible Studios divided the reading between two narrators. As usual, the wonderful Bernard Setaro Clark reads Vlad’s parts. Kiera’s parts are read by Angele Masters who also did an excellent job. Orca is 9.25 hours long on audio.


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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.

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