I've not read many books with multiple time lines, although I'm currently reading the Song of Ice and Fire series, which has books that basically run in parallel with regards to the time line. This sounds quite different to Brust and I'm definitely intrigued, although I think I'll start earlier in the series than book 8!
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The Book of Dragon by Steven Brust – review
Dragons, war, Vlad Taltos, Dragonlords, psychics, and a triple timeline–Stephen Brust’s The Book of Dragon is a gem of fantasy writing that offers further proof that he is a master of the genre. Admittedly, the triple timelime took me some time to get used to, and at first, I found it challenging to sort through the various characters and their motivations. Part of that challenge may also have been because this is the first book I have read from Brust’s series, and it is the eigth and ninth book in the Vlad Taltos series combined in one book. I wish I had read the books preceding it–if I had, I think the initial going would have been easier for me. The two books that make up The Book of Dragon are Dragon and Issola.
Dragon was first published in 1998 by Tor books, while Issola came out in 2001. Both are set in the fictional world of Dragaera. Issola, like the other books in the Vlad Taltos series, is named after one of the Great Houses that are ruled over by the royal Dragon elite. Humans are generally considered to be inferior, but some, like Vlad Taltos, have their uses. Ordinarily, humans wouldn’t be allowed to be members of any of the Great houses, but Vlad’s father was exceedingly rich and bought them membership into one of the lesser of the Great Houses, the Jheregs.
So what is Vlad Taltos’ “use” in the novel to the Dragonlord Morrolan? To do some of his dirty work. He hires Vlad to protect a cache of Morganti weapons in the Dragon wizard Baritt’s home, after Baritt’s death. Morrolan is certain that someone will attempt to steal one or more of the weapons–he’s just not sure when, or who, so it’s up to Vlad to protect them. A psychic Hawklord named Daymar helps him, but one of the weapons, a Greatsword, nonetheless gets stolen. Vlad traces the theft to Fornia, an ambitious Dragonlord who neighbors Morrolan’s domain.
If this is all clear to you so far, great–possibly you, unlike myself, read the series from the beginning like any normal, sane reader of an epic fantasy series would do. Still, I think it would be even somewhat confusing to someone who has read the others in order, as there are the aforementioned three different timelines, and chronologically speaking, though it’s the eigth book, it is both the second and the fourth book in the series by timeline. Confused yet?
The reason that it can be considered to be both the second and the fourth book of the Vlad Taltos series is that it largely occurs after Taltos and before Yendi, with brief interludes taking place shortly after the events of Yendi.
Besides getting the job of protecting the Greatsword (which, as I mentioned, gets stolen anyway) and then recovering it–eventually–Vlad joins Morrolan’s army and goes to war against a rival Dragonlord. He does this because Morrolan is not sure whether the weapon is actually valuable, or if the theft is merely an excuse to start a war, but he resolves to fight Fornia regardless. When Fornia sends a few thugs to intimidate Vlad at his home, this ticks Taltos off, and it is a taboo thing to do to anyone who is a member of the Great hosue of Jhereg. Because of this threat by Fornia, and that he’s mad about it, Vlad offers his help to Morrolan in the upcoming war.
I’ve made mention of the three timelines, but haven’t really gone into what each one depicts. The first one follows Vlad’s actions at the final battle of a war he has joined, the second follow events that have lead up to the battle, and the third is about events after the battle. Each chapter has the three timelines, with interludes and an epilogue for the third. Perhaps this may sound to you to be confusing, and it kind of is; but it is an interesting way to construct a novel and a series, and when you get used to reading a book in this format, it becomes easier to get into the story.
The war begins when Morrolan insults Fornia at the wizard Baritt’s funeral service. An insult is necessary to start the war. Vlad also publically insults Fornia, which then commits him to the war.
Why all of this over one stupid sword? Morrolan deduces that Fornia must consider the Greatsword to be very important for some reason. To learn more, Morrolan takes Vlad to meet a Serioli. The Serioli tells them that the stolen sword might be a Great Weapon, and that Vlad’s magical chain, Spellbreaker, is a piece of a Great Weapon as well.
Morrolan places Vlad in Cropper Company (an elite unit consisting mostly of Dragonlords), which he places in the vanguard so that Vlad will be close to Fornia’s base of operations. Almost against his will, Vlad finds himself starting to like the men who are fighting alongside him, and he finds that he cannot bring himself to abandon his new comrades as he had planned.
I don’t want to give away any spoilers about either novel, so I’ll now write a few words about the second book, Issola. Issola was the first Vlad Taltos novel in three years when it was published in 2001. It’s an interesting novel, but it’s a slow-building one. In Issola, Steven Brust engages Vlad Taltos in a battle between the Dragaerans and the Jenoine. The Jenoine are a supernatural race who may have been responsible for the creation of the worlds and its gods.
Though Brust is excellent at worldbuilding, going into a great depth of information about Dragaera over the course of the Vlad Toltos series, he does not spell out in Issola what the role is of the seventeen cycles and the houses that are formed. Since it’s called Issola, his focus is on that house. By making each house very distinct, though, Brust’s characters are almost pre-determined to be the types of people that they are from birth onwards. To some people, this can seem to be almost racist.
Issola ends with a cataclysmic battle, but it can be thought of as a novel of characterization and introspection. But never fear–there is plenty of action and fighting in this novel, also.
One of the things I liked about this release of both Dragon and Issola in Brust’s The Book of Dragon is that the mysterious Jeonines of the Great House by the same name are gone into in greater detail, and their general role in the history of Vlad’s universe become more clear.
The Book of Dragon by Stephen Brust combines two great novels in his Vlad Taltos series, and it’s well worth checking out so that you can experience the wonderful degree of worldbuilding that Brust offers. The trouble is that it can’t be enjoyed very well as a stand-alone set of two books, unless you take some time to wade through it, backtrack often, and sort out the timelines. Still, Brust is a fantastic author, and if you take the time to read the series in order, you’ll find that it is a remarkable sustained effort. If you like reading books in the fantasy genre, and you read the series in order, you can’t do much better than Stephen Brust’s Vlad Taltos series and The Book of Dragon.