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Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos novels - the epic saga of a smartass assassin


Fearabbit

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Just wanted to ask if there are any Vlad Taltos fans here! Two days ago, the newest book "Hawk" came out and I'm currently reading it. It's so, so good.

 

Since I was 13 or 14 years old, those books have been my favorite fantasy series ever, yet they are fairly unknown. It's difficult for me to describe what makes them special, because anyone can say "this fantasy world is very cool" and "I like the author's writing" and it doesn't tell you anything about whether you will like it.

 

So... what are those novels about, and what makes them special?

First of all, the main character is a human living in an "elven" empire. (Though the "elves" actually call themselves humans, and they call humans "Easterners" and regard them as less than human.)

He is Vlad Taltos, and he is an assassin. And a witch (that is the Eastern type of magic, which involves lots of herbs and rituals and stuff). And he dabbles in sorcery - that is the Dragaeran, i.e. elven, way of magic, which involves the Orb, a divine artifact that draws its power from a sea of amorphia and circles the head of the Empress. The most common uses of sorcery are telepathy, teleportation and checking the time. Also, cooling spells for your beverages.

But yeah, about the assassin part - since he's a human living in the Dragaeran Empire, he has experienced racism from an early age on, which made him kind of hate the Dragaerans. So when there was an opportunity to join the Dragaeran mafia, who paid him for beating up (and later killing) Dragaerans, that seemed like a good deal.

 

And in this world, killing people is an art form - it all depends on how dead you're supposed to make them. People can be revived, you know. Unless you make it permanent by chopping off the head, or hiding the body long enough. Or you use Morganti weapons, which instantly destroy a person's soul. Morganti is the most horrible thing you can do to a person - so make sure you're getting paid well for it.

 

As you can see, this is high fantasy stuff. It's the kind of high fantasy that I've only seen in Morrowind before - a unique world where people actually use magic to do stupid stuff like cooling your drinks, or using it for an umbrella spell when it rains. (As compared to normal fantasy which is just "take a grim medieval setting and add dwarves, elves and magic".)

It's also funny as hell, as you might have figured. The books are usually told from Vlad's perspective, and he just constantly makes fun of everything. So you have this fantasy world with its lords and ladies who fight for honor and glory and are serious all the time... and then you have this protagonist who just constantly takes the piss out of them. It's awesome.

 

And I've not even mentioned half the stuff that makes the books even more interesting. Take Vlad's reptilian familiar, for example, with whom he frequently exchanges wisecracks via telepathy. Or take the 17 Houses of the Dragaeran Empire and how the Cycle determines which one of them is in power, the complicated history of the Empire that includes a kind-of recent Interregnum after some guy turned the former capital city into a sea of chaos, the Gods and the Paths of the Dead, why the goddess Verra is kind of a bitch and who that small brown-haired girl is...

 

...I'm not good at describing things, but this series is really, really excellent. It's a wild and unique take on a fantasy setting, and anyone who likes characters like Garrett from Thief will feel right at home here. The stories are a mix of assassination jobs that Vlad takes on and more "epic" occurrences, and they quickly draw you in.

 

For those who want to give it a try: Start with "Jhereg" and go by release date, don't try to read them in chronological order (it's not really possible anyway).

 

And to those who know the series already: What are your favorite stories, what do you think of "Hawk", how did you like the "Khaavren Romances" (which is a spin-off set before and during the Interregnum and is kind of a parody of / homage to the Three Musketeers)?

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