Jhereg by Steven Brust
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a fantastic book and I highly recommend it if you want a fun read that doesn’t constantly regurgitate the standard fantasy tropes.
The series is very well done and still continues to have solid additions. I originally read this book while I was in med school (borrowed it and a couple of the others in the series from a friend who recommended it) about 20 years ago. I’ve started re-reading the series recently and it’s standing up well to the re-read. It’s also useful because it’s helping me to recall some details I’ve long forgotten. Also, in the re-read, there are a TON of inside jokes that hit me harder now that I know the characters well.
This is the first book in the series and should be read first, in my opinion. It is NOT chronologically the first in the series. In fact, there’s a fair amount of chronological jumping in the series, so you might as well get used to that.
Jhereg introduces the reader to Vlad Taltos, who is the primary “protagonist” through all of these books. Vlad is an “Easterner” (an Earth-style human) living in the land of Dragaera amongst another humanoid species he calls “elves” and whom the author calls Dragaerans (they call themselves “humans.”) In Dragaeran society, there are 17 “houses” each with it’s own characteristics. Vlad’s father bought his way into the Jhereg, which is thought of as the house of criminals and is therefore a lower house. Dragaerans typically live hundreds to thousands of years, are 6.5 feet tall or taller and are typically thinly built.
Vlad himself runs a smallish territory in the town of Adrilanka. He also occasionally takes work as an assassin to supplement his income. He has some skill in the eastern arts of witchcraft along with Dragaeran sorcery. He also has some extremely powerful friends and acquaintances. It all makes for some interesting storylines throughout the series.
In this particular book, in addition to meeting the “cast” as it were, the main story involves a leader of house Jhereg hiring Vlad to assassinate another high-ranking member who has pulled a “fast one” on the house itself. As the story unfolds, you find out it’s deeper and then deeper still than anyone knew. As is pretty common with the series, most of Vlad’s time is spent trying to figure things out with frequent flurries of action along the way. There are twists, turns and surprises. I won’t spoil the surprises for you, but I will say it is a convoluted but enjoyable ride the whole way. A great deal of the fun in reading these books is getting to see how Vlad figures things out and how he figures out how to get out of his tight spots.
As a final comment: Steven Brust has built an excellent world in this series. It’s different, but exceptionally well thought-out. In addition to the Vlad Taltos books, there are several other books (6-7) that take place in the same world and focus on other characters who figure prominently through all of the series. Those are worthwhile reads as well. I’m continually surprised that Brust (and these books, in particular) isn’t a much more prominent/popular author amongst those who enjoy the genre. (If you have any insight as to the reason for this, I’d love to hear it. It is mind-boggling to me.)
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