Steven Brust, Dzur (Tor, 2006)

Dzur is the tenth in the Taltos Cycle. Brust said at one point that there was the distinct possibility of seventeen volumes in this series, unless he died or got bored with it, but I have a feeling that boredom is not really going to happen. And, if he'll keep writing them, I'll keep reading them.

A small digression, because I can do it if I want to and because it's something that Brust does superlatively well, so it's in keeping with the subject. Series in fantasy seem to run to two kinds. There are the ongoing, massive, and usually not very interesting kind that are really just one long story suffering from Fat Book Syndrome, and there are the tightly constructed, well-written and mercifully briefer kind that are a group of self-contained stories that share characters and settings. (Yes, I have a preference.) The Taltos Cycle is one of the latter, along with such hallmarks of American genre fiction as the Black Company and Nero Wolfe. (More on the Wolfe connection later.)

In Dzur, which begins a few hours after the end of Issola, Vlad is back in Adrilankha, even though if he holds still for too long he's a dead man. Cawti, his estranged wife, is in trouble: in her quest to rid South Adrihlankha, the Eastern ghetto, of crime, the rackets Vlad has left her have come under the control of the Left Hand of the Jhereg, who usually stick to criminal sorcery and don't go in for untaxed shereba and s'yang stones and the like. Something's a little fishy. The problem is that the rackets are still going and are not under Cawti's control, which just makes things worse for the Easterners and will probably make things very bad for Cawti. So of course Vlad has to stick his fingers into it, even though the Jhereg is still after his neck.

I've mentioned elsewhere that Brust seems to have fun writing, and consequently, we are likely to have fun reading what he writes. In this case, he's framed the story within a meal at Valabar's, the legendary Eastern restaurant. I won't go so far as to say that the segments of the story relate directly to the courses of the meal, but I won't say they don't, in some subliminal way. He's framed stories in this way before, building an extended metaphor for the action, and it still works beautifully.

And it also leads me back to the Nero Wolfe connection. Well, Archie Goodwin, actually, although Vlad at one time was a sort of combination of the two as I saw it -- Wolfe's brains and intuition, and Goodwin's style. (I have read passages in Nero Wolfe stories that echoed Vlad so strongly that I was stopped cold by it.) At least, that's the way it started out. Vlad, however, has changed -- he's grown, gotten deeper, while Archie/Wolfe remained pretty much static as characters throughout the series. Vlad still does have his love of fine food, though, and his smart-guy attitude.

The Dzur in the title is Telnan, a Lavode-in-training and the bearer of a Great Weapon, whom Sethra has sent to cover Vlad's back and who becomes his dinner companion. And so we learn more about the House of the Dzur. When I finished Issola, I remember saying to myself, "The next book will be. . ." except that I've forgotten what I thought it was going to be. It wasn't "Dzur."

And so Brust surprises us once again.

[Robert M. Tilendis]

Steven Brust has a Web site, the Dream Café, which warns the unwary surfer that "You're in the wrong place. This is the Steven Brust Home Page." You should have expected that.