Alright, before we begin I just want to throw out a note to all you authors out there: please stop writing books out of chronological order – it is killing me. This is the third major series I have read this year that the books do not sequentially and chronologically lineup, and while these series are great (Drenai, Craft, and Vlad Taltos) I can’t help but wish they were in the right order. Now that that is out of the way, let’s talk about Jhereg. If you follow this blog you will know of our undying love for the great Sebastien De Castell (author of The Greatcoats). While interviewing him last year we asking him his favorite fantasy books, and he mentioned Steven Brust has been a major influence on him. We had no idea who that was (forgive us) but then we took /r/fantasy’s top 100 quiz later that month, and Jhereg came up as one of the great fantasy classics that we had somehow missed – so we immediately added it to our book club reading list.
For those of you who don’t know, Jhereg follows the story of Vlad Taltos, a Jhereg assassin, and his various adventures throughout his life. It is the first book in a huge series named after the protagonist. Jhereg is about establishing Vlad as a character, meeting some of his companions who are featured heavily through all the books (like his Jhereg familiar), and attempting to kill a particularly difficult target. The books are short, only about 200 pages each, so they are fairly focused on a single task/event and chronicle a major event in Vlads life. Vlad is a wise cracking and funny lead, which is good because he is the only POV. However, while I would describe him as amusing, it is more the occasional smile to yourself kind of funny as opposed to the laugh out loud. Vlad falls into an interesting category of protagonists that have strength not because of their personal skills or talents, but from their connections and friends. He solves problems through his vast network of allies, similar to The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher if you have read it. It is an exciting style of writing, in particular because Brust is so good at characterization and world building. His characters are varied and well developed, all with their own personalities and quirks.
In addition, his world building, while slow to kick off, is very strong. The world of Vlad Taltos has two races, essentially humans and elves (called Dragaerans). Vlad is a human, but he lives in the elven part of the world where humans are looked down on heavily. In addition, the elves are separated into a number of houses with very different ideals, jobs, and quirks that are all named after different animals. Each book in the Vlad Taltos series is named after one of these sub houses and deals with a plot line involving that house. The Jhereg house (named after a psychic dragon like creature the size of a cat) is one of the only ones who allow the admittance of humans, and is the house that Vlad belows too. Brust does an amazing job at intra world politics, and the map of how each of the seventeen (that’s right, SEVENTEEN) houses feel about one another would need a wall two stories tall to accurately map out. While you will feel a little in the deep end breaking into Jhereg, Brust manages to keep the information intake manageable as he introduces on house in full per book, while a few houses are always a part of the plotline (due to Vlad’s membership in the Jhereg and his connections to other houses).
In the end, reading Jhereg was an interesting experience that was mostly positive. The first book is short, fun, and simple. When I finished it I was curious about the world, but neither hooked or turned off. In response, I decided to read the next two books in the story (Yendi and Teckla), which I will talk about at a later date. While Jhereg left me a little lukewarm, the first three books has given me a glimpse at what all of the people in the intro were talking about, and I am very excited to press on. Jhereg is a decent read, and I recommend you check it out. If you are even slightly intrigued by it, keep going, because there is an exciting and fun adventure around the corner for you.