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The Phoenix Guards    by Steven Brust order for
Phoenix Guards
by Steven Brust
Order:  USA  Can
Orb, 2008 (1991)
Hardcover, Softcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Steven Brust, author of the long-running and highly engaging Jhereg series (starring human antihero Vlad Taltos), now takes us back a millennium to an earlier period in Dragaeran history for The Phoenix Guards (first of five planned episodes). In a note at the back of the book, Brust informs us that the author of this historical account, Paarfi, 'is the creation of a writer who, at first, wished the style of the French Romantics (Dumas, Sabatini, etc.) was still popular, then decided he didn't care, and he'd bloody well write like that anyway.'

Though this style might seem long-winded to many modern readers, this reviewer (whose copies of all Sabatini's works are well thumbed) settled down to read The Phoenix Guards with enthusiasm, finding it immediately reminiscent of Dumas' The Three Musketeers. Its main hero, Khaavren, is as impulsive and hot blooded as D'Artagnan, but he also has a very clever knack of finding ways out of seemingly impossible situations. This is just as well as he and his friends would not survive otherwise.

After Khaavren, Aerich and Tazendra meet (over a duel), the latter two decide to join Khaavren in signing up for the Phoenix Guards. When they meet Pel (who's already a member) in Dragaera, he gives them an introduction to Captain G'aereth. Like the Musketeers, they get into trouble at the drop of the hat and each guards the other's back. Most also have secrets in their backgrounds, some of which are revealed later in this first of their adventures. Their troubles begin when Khaavren falls in love with a heartbreaker named Illista and offers to perform any service she might require - she immediately takes him up on the offer.

The friends are quickly embroiled in complex Imperial politics, in which most parties want them out of the way. Khaavren's commitment to Illista takes them on a quest to Redface, though with conflicting goals. En route, they face regular assassination attempts, the number of attackers steadily increasing until, towards the end, they face an army of Easterners and a dread Morganti blade. And though Khaavren gets them out of that one, their troubles are by no means over. The Phoenix Guards is a must read for Dragaeran fans, and is also recommended to anyone who's enjoyed Dumas' or Sabatini's works.

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