Yendi coils and strikes unseen: Steven Brust’s Yendi

Yendi (1984) was published a year after Jhereg but is set a year or so before it. If I hadn’t read them bound in one (phenomenally ugly) volume I’d have assumed I’d picked them up in the wrong order. But indeed, Brust’s plan in writing a series was to chose immediately to go back and fill in a volume of earlier events. That’s risky, as the reader who reads in publication order knows how it’s going to come out. Brust doesn’t rely on suspense for tension, but rather on the interest of the twisty plot. You know Vlad’s going to survive and win and get the girl—but there’s a general expectation of that anyway in the kind of book this purports to be.

Vlad’s voice, hard-boiled and cynical first person, has been compared to Zelazny, and also to classic American hardboiled detective fiction, but Vlad isn’t a detective, he’s a criminal. Nevertheless, in both Jhereg and Yendi he solves mysteries. The plot in Yendi is complicated and twisty, as you might expect—yendi the animal are kind of heraldic poisonous snakes.

I think Yendi would be a perfectly reasonable place to start the series.

Spoilers for Yendi start here. Actually, a general spoiler policy on these posts. I haven’t read Iorich yet, and neither have most other people. Please don’t spoil it. When I read it, there’ll be an Iorich review, and it will have a spoiler section. Until then, no spoilers in comments please. However, spoilers for any of the other Dragaera books are fine. I’m going on the general assumption that you’ve either read them all or don’t care.

Vlad in Yendi is notably younger, brasher and less confident, but still himself. That’s quite impressive. Not all writers can make that work. Apart from the fact it’s set before Jhereg and has Vlad’s meeting with Cawti, Yendi doesn’t play games with time. We know Vlad’s going to be married to Cawti the second we see her—even before we hear her name, because we were told about how they met. We know Vlad’s going to win the Jhereg war and get an enlarged area. What keeps us reading is finding out how, which is itself a twisty Yendi thing to do.

As for Cawti, the whole “killing him first and then falling in love” is done very well. Here we do see set-up and warning signs for the relationship and for the situation as of Teckla—most noticeably Vlad thinking of Cawti as a female version of himself, and Vlad leaping to conclusions about her and about himself. They fall in love awfully quickly and with really insufficient thought—but that’s how people do. We see Noish-pa for the first time here, though he was mentioned in Jhereg. There couldn’t be a nicer happy ending. Everything is still upbeat and light, even with the hardboiled tone.

With the plot, re-reading, it’s obvious that every time the Sorceress in Green is mentioned Vlad assumes she’s an Athyra and Morrolan doesn’t get the chance to correct him. She is in fact the Yendi of the title—and as well as her long plot, Vlad spends much of the book plotting and trying to figure out plots. The whole situation with Norathar is interesting—and it’s also interesting that Brust doesn’t really make much use of Norathar in the series. She’s been Cawti’s partner, but she’s very much kept in the background.

I like Yendi, it’s sufficiently like Jhereg that it satisfies my “give me another cookie” craving and sufficiently different to be interesting.

On to Brokedown Palace.

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published eight novels, most recently Half a Crown and Lifelode, and two poetry collections. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.


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