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Bewildering Stories

Steven Brust, Dzur

reviewed by Danielle L. Parker

Author: Steven Brust
Publisher: Tor, 2006
Length: 285 pages
ISBN: 13-978-0-765-30148-2

Speculative fiction horror, fantasy, science fiction are like the less-than-respectable, hog-ridin’, black sheep juvenile in the family in my branch library. Our central branch supplies it to our small outlet, but clearly without much knowledge of the genre. Thus we end up with the third volume in a six-part fantasy series, orphaned and lonesome on the shelf, with nary a hope of catching a new reader who can’t get the prequels; we end up with execrable stuff, some of it horror or S&M stuff so blood-drenched I am sure circulation had not a clue as to what they really supplied us. We get the latest Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award winners rarely and seemingly randomly. My personal belief is that the circulations librarian walks along the shelves of the warehouse counting to herself, one two three PULL! and drops the book she has selected into the cart. Done! More science fiction for those drooling hordes!

If that’s true, then our circulation librarian must have hit Stephen Brust more than once on the count of Pull!, because just in the last few weeks, a number of shiny new Brust books have shown up on our shelves. Or, since I see there are now ten books in his Vlad Taltos series alone, maybe the increase is just because Brust is a very busy man. He and Mercedes Lackey should get some kind of award, all to themselves, just for hard work. I wish I could produce like that.

I started in the Vlad Taltos series at the Issola book, and just finished the latest, Dzur. For those of you who, like me, have not read the preceding eight or nine books, the first question I can answer is yes, you can jump in without having read the prequels. You may, like me, find it a bit difficult at first, since the story assumes quite a lot of background knowledge (I am still not clear on exactly what defines an Easterner, a Dzur, an Orca, or a Dragaeran, not to mention the difference between witchcraft, sorcery, and wizardry). But it doesn’t seem to matter too much, if you just keep reading. And if I were a reader who had already consumed the first eight books, I would no doubt be grateful the author doesn’t belabor the point with repetitive info-dump.

Brust (in the Vlad Taltos books, at least) gets lots of comparisons to Roger Zelazny’s Amber series, and though these back-cover marketing blurbs usually amuse (or annoy) the heck out of me, in this case, the book pimps have a point. The hero does sound a lot like a Zelazny voice.

There are, however, some significant differences. Vlad, wisecracking, lets-go-kill-someone-and-have-a-good-time guy, is basically a thug with a supposed heart of gold. Corwin, hero of the Amber chronicles, played the Game of Kings, not the Game of Crooks, which put him on a different level indeed. Of course the games often play out much the same way in real life, with assassinations, bribery, murder, and assorted other atrocities but still, one’s definitely a more interesting game than the other.

I could summarize the plot of Dzur for you, but it is, as I said, all about old-fashioned thuggery. One criminal group wants to put the lock on the local rackets, and another one objects; one ambitious fellow has a mistress in the opposite camp and thus causes a lot of trouble; so-and-so wants to be the King of Crime; and, of course, heads eventually get knocked around a bit. Vlad rides to the rescue of his ex-wife (what a sweetie! How many men have a soft spot for their ex-wives? None of you?! I said he had heart of gold).

In any event, Vlad’s ex-wife, who doesn’t actually appear much in the story, has gotten herself entangled with said criminal groups. Vlad, who has a price on his head from both sides, has to make everyone play nice together. He does his usual wisecracking, nobler-than-I’ll-admit-I-am job of it.

Brust’s books are unexceptional, fairly simple fun, though not up to the Amber series his back-cover book blurbs take in vain. I do wish the author would lose the self-conscious I’m-talking-directly-to-you, Dear Reader, asides he sprinkles throughout, and the wit is pretty juvenile. But then, Vlad is a fairly uncomplicated sort himself: he still longs for the days when he was a just an assassin-for-hire who went out and did the shine (as he calls it) and celebrated his ill-gotten gains at his favorite restaurant. (There is a lot of talk about food in this book, so do not read the story when all you have in the house is leftover Chinese takeout. It will make you grumpy).

I could be annoyed with the whole unrealistic killer-with-a-heart-of-gold riff (which is about as likely as the old whore-with-a-heart-of-gold cliché). But suspend belief and your higher cortical functions, jump on for the ride, and enjoy Vlad’s latest adventure (and these books are all about Vlad and his sounding-board pet familiar other characters are definitely sketchy). Anyway, I did read two of these in a row, didn’t I? So they’re not too bad!

Copyright © 2006 by Danielle L. Parker

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