fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Paths of the Dead by Steven BrustThe Paths of the Dead by Steven Brust

The Paths of the Dead is the first book in Steven Brust’s THE VISCOUNT OF ADRILANKHA trilogy, which is a sequel to The Phoenix Guards and Five Hundred Years. Each of these books is an installment in Brust’s KHAAVREN ROMANCES and they’re all related to his VLAD TALTOS books which, at this moment, consist of 13 novels. All of these books have just been released in audio format by Audible Frontiers. I picked up The Paths of the Dead after reading that it can stand alone. You might wonder why I started here and, honestly, it’s because we already had reviews for some of the VLAD TALTOS novels and for The Phoenix Guards and Five Hundred Years but none for any of THE VISCOUNT OF ADRILANKHA books. I now realize that it would have been better to start with the first VLAD TALTOS novel, Jhereg. Our omniscient and intrusive narrator assures us that no history is required to enjoy The Paths of the Dead, but I found that I wished I had the background to more thoroughly relate to our heroes. They’re descendants of the characters in Brust’s previous novels and they’re associated with “houses” which are known by their particular personality traits. While relevant information is occasionally briefly explained in The Paths of the Dead, I felt like I was missing the rich history that would have increased my enjoyment. Nevertheless, I can talk about the plot and the style of this novel.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThis is the story of how Zerika, with a little help from her adventurous friends, went to the Paths of the Dead to obtain the Orb which would restore the empire to its former glory — a story referred to in the other Brust books. Most of The Paths of the Dead is set-up for this event which takes relatively few pages at the end. There is also some history on Morrolan and a few other characters that Brust fans are familiar with.

But all of those folks get upstaged by the real main character in The Paths of the Dead: the narrator. If you’ve read the previous KHAAVREN ROMANCES, you know that Brust is parodying Alexandre Dumas. His narrator, a historian named Paarfi, is pompous and wordy, constantly interjecting information, opinions, and explanations about his writing style in his pretentious tone. This is often very funny and I chuckled frequently, especially at the beginning of the story when it was all new to me. However, after a while, it becomes repetitive and tedious. For example, while Paarfi regularly insists that he’s being brief and sparing us unnecessary details, he actually does the opposite which, of course, is meant to be humorously ironic. But it gets irritating when he records numerous conversations that go something like this:

“Has it troubled you not to know?”
“You wish to know if it has troubled me?”
“Yes, if you would care to tell me.”
“Well. I will answer your question.”
“No. For some reason it has not. It has always seemed to me as if…”
“Yes? As if?”

This is funny only the first 10 times. After that, it’s irksome. Unfortunately, when you’re listening to an audio recording, you can’t skip this stuff like you might in a print book, and the book is full of these quirky little mannerisms. I haven’t read the previous books to compare, but it seems to me that the unconventional narration is covering up for a very thin plot.

My conclusion is that The Paths of the Dead is not the best place to start with Steven Brust’s repertoire (despite the book’s assurance that it stands alone) and that even if I had read the previous books, this story contains little substance and, though the narrator’s style is quite amusing, it eventually becomes tiresome. After reading The Paths of the Dead, however, I can tell that I like Steven Brust and I have high hopes for the VLAD TALTOS novels. I’ll soon be trying the first book, Jhereg, on audio. By the way, Kevin Stillwell read The Paths of the Dead for Audible Frontiers and he was perfect for this story — he really captured Paarfi’s pomposity. I hope to hear him again.


  • 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.

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