No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

#88-90: The Viscount of Adrilankha (trilogy) -- Steven Brust

The Paths of the Dead -- Steven Brust
The Lord of Castle Black -- Steven Brust
Sethra Lavode -- Steven Brust

Though published in three volumes, this is very definitely a single novel: the chapter numbering, if nothing else, makes this clear. Some might say that it could easily have been slimmed down to a single volume without significant loss of content -- this is Brust at his most mannered, with characters who treat etiquette as a competitive sport, and who might spend two pages asking a question. Either this will drive you mad, or you will enjoy the measured pace and the social subtleties. The first time I picked up The Paths of the Dead, I fell into the former category: lately, I have relocated to the latter.

Though sometimes I do think that Brust takes the whole mannerist style a step too far. There's an ur-conversation something along these lines:
A (after appropriate greetings, enquiries as to health, etc): Could you tell me X?
B: Ah, X; a subject about which I know things that you do not.
A: Hence my enquiry.
B: Ah, so you wish to know X?
A: That's why I asked.
B: So you'd like me to tell you?
A: [sound of grinding teeth]

The first time, it's amusing; the next few times, vaguely humorous; the hundredth time, not. I grind my teeth, and remember that Brust is a player of games, and loves to tease his audience. The pacing is frustratingly marvellous; Brust's narrator, Paarfi -- a historian whose frequent interjections add spice to the tale -- plays cat-and-mouse with the plot, reaching a pivotal point at the end of a chapter only to pick up a different plot strand in the next.

If you can get past the stylistic idiosyncrasies, you may find the plot a little disappointing. It deals with a plot to overthrow the Dragaeran Empire; with the past of several characters familiar from the Vlad Taltos books -- characters who are perceived in quite a different light in those books -- and with the fates of other characters from Brust's, or Paarfi's, earlier Dumas-inspired duology, The Phoenix Guards and Five Hundred Years After. There are unexpected deaths, explanations for events which by Vlad's time are legend, and frustrating omissions. (It is really about time Mr Brust told us more about Sethra Lavode, and I believe the enthusiast might be forgiven for expecting him to do so in the third volume of this novel.)

It's plain that The Viscount of Adrilanka was vastly enjoyable to write, and I certainly found it enjoyable to read. I'm not sure I'd recommend them to someone who wasn't already familiar with Brust's Dragaera, a fantasy world that is extra-special because it hardly ever uses the 'e' word*: but if you appreciate either the 'Khaavren' books (Phoenix Guards / Five Hundred Years After) or the Vlad Taltos books (starting with Jhereg, most recently Issola) then there will be something here for you. However, I now suffer an urge to reread Brust's entire Dragaera sequence, and they're all in storage ...

*elf.

reposted here from LJ in order to keep all my reviews in one place

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