Dzur is definitely my favourite Vlad book and one of my favourite of all books. It begins with a visit to Valabars, the famous Eastern restaurant in Adrilankha, which has been mentioned since Jhereg but never seen before. This visit to Valabars frames and shapes the book, each chapter begins with a description of a course. Here we have grown up mature Vlad, with Lady Teldra by his side, no longer an assassin but back in Adrilankha, solving a small-scale mystery. This book is set in the main continuity, it begins mere minutes after Issola. We get to see most, if not all, of the ongoing characters of the series. As well as Valabars, there’s another thing that’s been mentioned in various contexts and turns up for the first time here. Brust’s on absolute top form in Dzur. It’s a delicious book and I love it.
I think this might be a good place to start the series. It would certainly make you want to read the others to catch up, but I think it would work as an introduction. Besides, there’s the meal in Valabars. Don’t read this if you’re hungry, or if you have no expectation of eating good food soon. Also, this might not be as much fun if you hate food. I don’t identify with Vlad much, but he says at one point in Dzur “I’m a fair cook, I’m a superb eater” and oh, me too.
I’ve had another thought about reading order, by the way. When the books are finished, it will be possible to read them in Cycle order, and that reading might have its own interest and benefits. I’ll look forward to trying it.
I was so deeply absorbed in this book that when I read the description of Valabars mushroom and barley soup and the way Vlad can’t make it exactly the same at home because there’s something he’s just not getting, I wanted to email him and suggest that he try just a tiny bit of nutmeg, going in when the mushrooms do. I didn’t want to email Steve Brust to suggest this, though that would be a much more practical proposition, I wanted to email Vlad. Also, I’m allergic to peppers, so I found myself wishing that Brust had made up a Dragaeran name for “Eastern red pepper” so I could pretend it was some fantasy thing that wouldn’t make me ill, instead of just thinking “Well, you could just leave that out and it would be fine.”
Vlad certainly behaves like a Dzur, stalking and striking and taking risks—not just being in Adrilankha at all, but rushing in to Verra’s halls, and the confrontation at the end. Sethra says Dzur can tell the difference between strategy and tactics and Dragons can’t, and we do see Vlad recognising the difference and changing plans as required. The member of House Dzur is Vlad’s dinner companion Telnan, who’s young and cheerful, has a great weapon and who will one day be called Zungaron Lavode. Oddly enough, House Dzur is one of the houses we’ve seen most of before their book. Not only is there Tazendra in the Paarfi books, but there’s the Dragon/Dzur revenge in Jhereg, there are the Dzurlords who go charging up Dzur Mountain, there’s Sethra, who seems to be a Dragon/Dzur hybrid though nobody would mention that, and there are a number of jokes about how many Dzurlords it takes to sharpen a sword. So I was if anything expecting more rushing in than there is—not that there’s not plenty.
As for ongoing mysteries and revelations, Mario walking up to the table is priceless. Mario’s been considered a legend, he makes his appearance in Five Hundred Years After, and now here he is, quietly walking up and having a conversation, doing an assassination, still alive, still Aliera’s lover, still the best. The pacing on this one is brilliant. I could never write a series like this because I couldn’t wait for nineteen years and ten Vlad books to pull off something this cool, it would keep me awake nights with excitement.
The other thing is Vlad finding out about the existence of Vlad Norathar—we’ve known about him since Orca but Vlad hasn’t. The book ends with the expectation of Vlad meeting his son and then going to Valabars again. I was just saying that this is grown up Vlad, and it occurs to me that being a father, having a role as a father, would be the next thing for that. I don’t see how he can manage it though, not if he can’t be in Adrilankha.
The thing I like least is Verra messing with Vlad’s memory. I don’t mind unreliable narrators, but I hate characters not remembering things they used to remember, and I was afraid it was going there. However, what we seem to have is a great big excuse for a retcon of any events of Taltos that Brust wants to change. I’d rather have an excuse than have books contradict each other, and if they have to they have to—there’s been surprisingly little of that. All I can think of is the sudden existence of wheeled transport in Dragon when the specific absence of it is mentioned in Phoenix, and the bit with Morrolan saying he was with Zerika at the top of the cliff, when according to Paarfi he was not in Piro’s party. Anyway, the memory problems stopped being a problem with me after Vlad did his Dzur-like dash to confront Verra about them. Brust may be cheating with this, but he’s cheating in style.
Onwards to Jhegaala.
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.