Taltos is the fourth novel in Steven Brust’s series about Vlad Taltos, a human crime boss in the fantasy world of Dragaera, where humans are short of stature and lifespan compared to the species that rule the world. Taltos is actually a prequel to the previous novels (Jhereg, Yendi, Teckla) in which Vlad tells us about an incident that happened years ago while he was solidifying his reputation as a new crime lord. One of his lackeys tried to cheat him, so Vlad went after him instead of letting the guy get away because he didn’t want to seem weak to his rivals. The man fled to Castle Black, an elusive floating castle owned by the Dragonlord Morrolan. Vlad followed. This is how he met some of the main characters who we already know from the previous novels, including Morrolan, the powerful sorceress Sethra Lavode, and the Dragon Heir Aliera. Together they have a grand adventure which involves stealing magical artifacts, walking the Paths of the Dead, and performing a dangerous bit of witchcraft.
While Vlad is telling us about this adventure, he also provides flashbacks which describe his childhood with his family, how he eventually left home to begin a career as another crime lord’s minion, and how he rose in the organization by being clever and daring. We learn a lot about Vlad’s father and grandfather, and the fact that Vlad doesn’t know who his mother is (which is bound to be important later). In this timeline we also witness when Vlad met, for the first time, Kiera, the thief who is Vlad’s friend, and Kragar, his current partner in crime.
Brust does a great job of interweaving these separate plot lines and giving us a lot of backstory about Vlad as well as much of the information about Dragaera that I felt like I had been missing so far. Also, the story gives us further hints about why Vlad, who’s merely an Easterner human, may be important to the Dragaeran society.
Vlad Taltos has a great voice and he’s a fun character, as is his familiar Loiosh, the jhereg. They make a great team and it’s fun to listen to them banter with each other. Brust’s prose is easily readable and each book I’ve read so far (the first four) are quick action-packed reads. I’m listening to the audio versions produced by Audible Studios. I love Bernard Setaro Clark in this role. He’s got just the right voice and pace. The audiobook is 6.25 hours long.
You could easily read Taltos before reading the other novels. If you’re the type of reader who would rather go in internal chronological order, I’d suggest picking this up first. Taltos is a must-read for fans of the VLAD TALTOS series because it gives us a lot of backstory while being just as much fun as the previous books.
I got interested in Steven Brust’s VLAD TALTOS books because of Kat’s reviews. When I came across an omnibus edition containing two of the novels, I grabbed it. I am glad I did, and glad I’ve made the acquaintance of Vlad Taltos: an assassin, crime lord, magician, and, as a human, an ethnic minority in a world ruled by the powerful and long-lived Dragaeran. The Book of Taltos contains Taltos and Phoenix. Although Taltos is the fourth book in the series, it is actually a prequel, and a good place to start if you don’t know the character.
Taltos contains a story involving a theft, a rescue attempt, and a meeting with various gods. It demonstrates human or “Easterner” magic, and the backstory reveals how Vlad Taltos became who and what he is. It’s a short book and the various storylines are gracefully structured. When one of Vlad’s “button men” absconds with the take, Vlad has to pursue him, and doing so means that he must deal with a Dragaeran wizard Lord Morrolan. Vlad has no liking for Dragaerans, and little liking for wizards, but soon he is on a quest for Morrolan and the more enigmatic Sethra Lavode, the Dark Enchantress. This quest will lead him to the Paths of the Dead.
While this story is unfolding, Vald reminisces about growing up above his father’s restaurant, one of the relatively few humans in a Dragaeran city. He contrasts his father’s teachings, which drive him toward Dragaeran customs and battle tactics, and his grandfather’s. Noish-pa teaches him Eastern magic and Eastern fighting. Although we never see a confrontation between father and grandfather, the conflict is clear, but these diverse skills only benefit the boy. In Taltos, we see how Vlad grows up hating the Dragaerans, especially those of the House of Orca, who are bullies (there are seventeen Dragaeran houses). This translates into a love of violence and an ability to kill that enriches him economically. This book also begins to explain why a man who hates Dragaerans has so many Dragaeran friends.
Vlad is a first-person narrator with an immediate, genuine voice. Sometimes he is snarky and witty, sometimes thoughtful and sometimes self-deprecating. Often, especially in his crime-lord persona, his voice is practical and world-weary. The things a crime lord has to do … they’re never-ending! His relationship with his familiar, a jhereg or venomous flying lizard, is touching. This is one area where Brust sprinkles on the humor. In the “present tense” story, Loiosh calls Vlad “boss” when they communicate telepathically. In the backstory, we see that Vlad raised Loiosh from an egg, and he spends several scenes with a baby lizard, who calls him “Mama,” tucked inside his jerkin.
With just enough world-building and just enough clues about the importance of Vlad to the Dragaeran, with just enough information about this world’s gods and with heaps of cleverness and wit, Taltos is a fast, enjoyable read.
Except for Taltos, I think, each book has been named after one of the seventeen Dragaeran Houses. The first book in the series is Jhereg and I intend to track it down immediately.