12 August 2013

Book (series) review: Jhereg

Jhereg, Yendi, Teckla, Taltos, Phoenix, by Steven Brust

Vladimir Taltos is a human living among Dragaerans (sort of elves who live thousands of years and can do sorcery). His grandfather is a witch, and he taught Vlad how to do witchcraft, including how to get a familiar. (He gets a jhereg, a sort of dragon the size of a large bird). His father bought a title in the Jhereg clan, earning them citizenship and the right to do sorcery. He's also an assassin and mob boss.

The Dragaerans are divided into 17 clans, each named for a type of animal. Each clan rules the empire for a set period, in an order in accordance with the great cycle. At the time of these novels, it is the reign of a Reborn Phoenix (phoenix gets to go twice in a row, at the end and beginning).

The Jhereg are hated because they're mostly criminals and outcasts; Easterners (humans) are hated because they're inferior. Vlad gets scorn heaped on him for both reasons.

The first five books tell the story of how Vlad prevented a Dragon-Jhereg war, how he defended his territory in his first turf war (and met his wife), how he got sucked into defending revolutionaries, how he originally met his few Dragaeran friends and made it out of the Paths of the Dead, and how the revolution ended. They're not in internal chronological order; that would be Taltos, Yendi, Jhereg, Teckla, Phoenix.

It took me a little while to get into Jhereg, but the rest were rather page-turners. The world is elaborately built and very detailed without bogging down. Brust lovingly details the food Vlad cooks, which seems largely based on Hungarian cuisine. (Vlad eats palacsinta at one point. Which made me wish I'd eaten more of them while I was in Budapest several years ago, and we ate them 3 or 4 times that week. They were cheap and delicious.)

I enjoyed these books, even Teckla, which has some very angry reviews on Goodreads. If you like cloak and dagger, mafia assassins, and politics, you might like them, too.

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