Jhegaala by Steven Brust Review

Steven Brust brings us another tale of our hero Vlad Talos as he goes to the East to learn about his family in the town of Burz. Being the outgoing chap that he is, Vlad starts asking about the family Merss (his mother’s side of the family) in this industrial town that makes paper, and then all hell breaks loose in this three-sided conflict.

Steven Brust

Jhegaala is the most recently published book in the Vlad saga, but it is not the most chronologically recent .Brust has us jumping around at different points in Vlad’s life when he tells a story, and Jhegaala is no exception.In many other series knowing the outcome for certain characters in a fantasy action adventure can be an issue for me. The little things that fall into place from a comment made by Vlad in another book are satisfying rather than frustration and this is due to Brust’s writing talent.

The setting of this Vlad Talos story is a bit of a different than what we would expect. Vlad is going back East, so we do not have any Dragaerans and Vlad does not have his people working for him, he is stranger among his own kind. The East though, while different, has its own sort of charm, with the town feeling like some sort of logging town in America’s past. Granted we did not have any Counts watching over the logging towns, but the industrial feel is still there. It is nice to see Brust put Vlad somewhere unfamiliar to him where out of his normal surroundings we can come to understand more about the character of Vlad and his personality. We also have a very interesting cast of characters in this mystery, a bit different then our hero is used to, and he will need more then sorcery and sword to survive.

Guilds and Covens, Covens and Guilds.Yeah, it’s a good thing he took the time to explain those to me.

Being the eleventh book in the series the major characters are a known commodity. Vlad, Loiosh and Rocza, with a little Noish-pa thrown in there, are the ones we will follow in this journey from the list of acquaintances in Vlad’s circle. Vlad’s split from Cawti is fresh and the Jhereg organization is out to eliminate him, and Vlad has troubles – troubles that I want to see solved, stories that I want to hear. This is what makes a Vlad book worth picking up.

Brust is one of my favorite authors among the many fantasy writers because of his ability to let you feel like you really know the character as some sort of fantasy extended family. Vlad feels like a real person, with real faults, dreams, and turmoil, and this allows you to empathize with him when he is down on his luck, as well as share in his triumphs when he succeeds. Brust is good in making you feel he is talking directly to you, engrossing you in the tale.

Jhegaala is a fantasy book at heart, but the crux of Vlad’s problems stem from a mystery, so I think it can be safe to call it a light cross-genre. Cross-genre books can be a blessing or a curse:can you make everyone happy or do you just exile readers of each genre? There are many book readers that would consider themselves cross –genre readers at heart, but I never considered myself one until recently. The mystery part was intriguing enough to spice up this Vlad story and I find it very unlikely that Brust alienated anyone with this tight storyline, and his creativity really shines through in the mystery that Vlad is caught up in. While the level of swordplay and sorcery is lower I felt the mystery portion of the story is stronger because of it. We learn more of Vlad, and when you have such a long running series, it is welcome to get a further understanding of the character you have been following for so long.

Having Loiosh, Vlad’s familiar, is always nice for Vlad from the partnership standpoint, but even more so in a story that is not driven by the sword.Loiosh allows Brust to give Vlad the ability to bounce ideas off a character other then himself, as well as hold back things from the reader as Vlad holds back things from Loiosh. This is nice ace in the hole to have in a cross-genre book that focuses on a mystery as the main plot.Loiosh also allows Brust to use a bit of humor in his books as readers of the series know from previous novels, but in a way that fits the story. Rocza, Loiosh’s mate, as always is more of a plot device, and allows Brust to move the story along rather than a true character in my opinion.

Jhegaala is a book that makes the Vlad Talos series stronger, and while each one of the Brust books can be read individually I suggest that this one be part of your series reading. We get to see a different side of Vlad, a different story type (cross genre) from Brust, and it makes one nice package.

I really enjoyed the mystery portion and I think the fantasy community needs to embrace this a bit more, authors and readers alike. One of the things that takes away from this book is something I alluded to earlier, the fact that I know Vlad is going to be okay in the end. Readers of the series already know what happens to Vlad after he leaves the East. It is a back-story type novel, and while I would not consider it the best stand alone Vlad story, I think when taking the book as a piece of the whole is where this book excels.

Jhegaala novel is a worthy addition to the Vlad Talos series.