I have made no bones about my love for Steven Brust's books. Here I am, buying book eleven of his Taltos series, pre-ordering it months in advance. I proselytize. I send people to others of Brust's books in order to prepare them for this series. I have long discussions about his style—of writing, of story-telling, of sentence formation. Book eleven! As many books as there are in the longest series I have ever read—the Barsoom novels by Burroughs—maybe my all-time favorite series. Well, you can see where I am going.
Jhegaala just doesn't live up to the rest of the series.
Brust has always been a quirky storyteller, moving back and forth in time between books and telling stories out of order. He's difficult enough to follow without two years between every book, which almost demands reading all of the books again to get caught back up to where the action is. But that usually doesn't matter—once Vlad Taltos begins narrating, all the concerns get swept away in masterful narration. And honestly, after the triumph of Dzur, I could not have been more excited about the series. But it's all broken in Jhegaala, and for a variety of unhappy reasons.
First, there is the jump back in time. Jhegaala takes place somewhere in Vlad's past relative to the ongoing series. It's not exactly clear when this is, and trying to figure out the context would require rereading the first ten books. Such issues generally don't matter to the stories, but in this case, the action involves Vlad's return to the land of his heritage, Fenario. Mixed in with references to the events current to the timeframe of the book (but not the series), it feels imperative that we do know when this takes place. Brust has done this kind of time-jump in past novels in this series, and I could generally let it ride, but for some reason, it was not something I could let go in the course of reading Jhegaala.
Secondly, and far worse, the first-person narrator in Jhegaala is trapped in events that he does not understand. A good 13 of the 17 chapters of the novel involve Vlad—usually so forceful and forthright, even when it is the wrong thing to do—wandering around in a daze. And when he is not just meandering from place to place without real cause, he is actually laid up in a sickbed. So we get the action of the story secondhand, as Vlad relays the information he gathers from his familiars he uses as spies. Even when he is not in his sickbed, however, Vlad is whiny and confused; if this had been his personality in the first ten books, I doubt the series would have made it as far as it has. It is only through his banter with his familiar that we see glimpses of the character that has become so beloved.
My one hope after putting the novel down is all these issues are intended to set up the next book in the series, when we will hopefully getting back to the “present.” But after setting the book down upon completion, I can only say that I was really stoked for the next novel and really disappointed in the reality.