I don’t recall whether I first encountered Steven Brust through To Reign In Hell or Jhereg. I remember seeing the blurb from Roger Zelazny (one of my favorite authors) on To Reign in Hell, and I remember reading the introduction, where Zelazny said he was sceptical that anyone could pull the story off. But Brust did – the book was great. I think it’s more likely I started with Jhereg,, where I was equally taken with its clever, sardonic protagonist and his sarcastic reptilian sidekick. In any case, I went out searching for more Brust.
What I found was pretty varied in content, from SF farce to historical fantasy. Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille and The Sun, the Moon, & the Stars were a lot of fun. Freedom and Necessity was not. Nor were Agyar and The Gypsy – the latter what should have been a sure-fire combination of Brust and Megan Lindholm (before she was Robin Hobb) but wasn’t.
The best thing about the books was that they were all over the place, subject-wise. Even if they weren’t all good, I was willing to keep buying them. And I did buy the sequels to Jhereg as they came out – Yendi, Brokedown Palace – and I liked them a lot.
But after a while, it seemed like that was all Brust was writing. It’s understandable – the first books were great, and very successful. But he eventually set himself up for a whopping 17+ books in the main Dragaeran sequence, and the truth is that the story is too thin for it. He explored the pre-history in the more substantial books of the enjoyed The Khaavren Romances, but they terminated in the truly indigestible Viscount of Adrilankha.
In the main sequence, I found the prequel to this book (remember? I’m reviewing Iorich, though it doesn’t seem that way, does it?) to be really dull, and to be frank I dreaded slogging through another six like it. It’s a very bad sign when a favored author’s favorite series is still going, and you wish it weren’t – like Zelazny’s second run at Amber.
So finally, Iorich. I’m happy to say that this book ups the interest quotient again, and we can hope that Jhegaala was the low point in the sequence. Maybe it’s because in this book, Vlad is back in Adrilankha again. The plot, as always, is both convoluted and thin. Vlad has to rescue a reluctant Aliera because that’s the kind of guy he is. And there’s lots of wandering around with Loiosh making smart-ass remarks, lots of asides to the reader. Most of it works – not as well as it used to, because it’s not fresh anymore. It’s Vlad doing what he did in the 11 previous books. There are plenty of affectations, a whole lot of superiority (including to the reader), and some irritating repetition – Vlad gets hurt, and he mentions it so often that I really wished he hadn’t. But Brust doesn’t let it get in the way of the narrative.
I could have wished for more depth – the interactions here are pretty limited, and most of the book is in Vlad’s head. One of the best parts is his interaction with Cawti and his son, but it’s mostly glossed over. I’d have preferred a book that dealt just with that, but I suppose it would have messed with the formula. And this is clearly a formula-driven book – even Brust acknowledges that, with a fun epilogue. I’m happy to say that at least he’s dragged the formula up from that gutter it looked to be headed toward. I’ll keep reading the series, and keep enjoying them, but I don’t see the books getting back up to the 5 star level soon.
On the side note that I alluded to earlier – Brust clearly has a lot of talent. It would be nice to see him apply it to something new. Even if it’s a tossup whether it will be more like To Reign in Hell or Agyar, I’ll buy it. I’ll take the chance if Brust will.