The brief review: I had a slight smile on my face the entire time I read The Phoenix Guards. It is, as a reviewer of The Three Musketeers might have once said, “charming.”
To elaborate: Steven Brust is very well (some might say “over”) educated and knows how to turn a phrase. The plot moves along briskly; the characters, while not fleshed out too thoroughly, do have distinct and effective personalities. I was, at first, a bit lost about the world’s/realm’s infrastructure of Houses and about the characteristics of each (and what animals the fantasy names correlate to). However, I’ve not read the Vlad Taltos series, which apparently sheds some light on those matters.
This is not a book to be read at breakneck speed, as the dialogue must be savored and as there are plot details that could otherwise be missed. That said, even if one does commit to reading each excruciatingly polite phrase that the characters utter, there are still times when one wants to throttle them for not getting to the point. Brust plays this game nicely, but he perhaps goes to the well one too many times. Nevertheless, in two words, as the wonderfully pompous narrator might say, this is an amiable sabre-and-sorcery frolick, and I plan to check out Five Hundred Years After, the next book, very soon.