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The Book of Jhereg    by Steven Brust order for
Book of Jhereg
by Steven Brust
Order:  USA  Can
Ace, 1999 (1983)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Book of Jhereg includes the first three stories of Brust's long-running Dragaeran series: Jhereg, Yendi and Teckla. When I first encountered Vlad Taltos over twenty years ago, I was not at all sure that I liked him. He is a smart alec anti hero, an unscrupulous assassin who uses his wits to survive and climb up through the ranks of House Jhereg. This is no mean feat, since Vlad is an Easterner and humans form a despised minority in this world. Vlad is married to Cawti, an assassin who killed him once - luckily he was revivable. In Vlad's own words 'Some couples fall in love and end up trying to kill each other. We'd done it the other way around.'

You start by admiring this character's gall and then he grows on you. He's tough; he takes his knocks and keeps on going in a most unusual and intriguing environment. The author wisely does not lay out all the details, but slowly unveils information about the world through the series. The non-humans Dragaerans are organized into competing Houses, each with its own rules and characteristics, the highest being the Dragons and the Phoenix.

The most sympathetic thing about Vlad's character is his affinity with his jhereg, which he attracts using witchcraft taught to him by his grandfather. His father rejected his Eastern heritage, bought Dragaeran citizenship and had Vlad taught sorcery (he can teleport though it makes him ill). Vlad makes a bargain with a mother jhereg for one of her eggs as his familiar ... 'I offer it long life ... And fresh, red meat without struggle, and I offer it my friendship.'

He ends up with Loiosh, a small, poisonous reptilian companion with a peculiar sense of humor. Together they build a successful business, spying and performing assassinations, with help from Vlad's Dragaeran associate, the seven foot Kragar, and his friend Kiera, a thief. In Jhereg, his latest commission requires killing someone who has absconded with council funds and making sure that he cannot be revived (death is not necessarily permanent on this world, unless a Morganti dagger is used to destroy the soul). Unfortunately the thief has taken refuge at Castle Black, home of the formidable Dragonlord Morrolan. Vlad prevails with help from his friends and Loiosh finds a mate.

Yendi continues the saga. It involves Vlad in in-fighting amongst Jhereg factions. This spills over to a larger plot that threatens the Empire. Regulars, Dragaeran Lords Morrolan, Aliera and Sethra the Necromancer are involved. Teckla is a little darker, a tad more serious. Vlad cannot comprehend his wife Cawti's concern for social justice. She has joined a group of revolutionaries (Easterners and Teckla), their marriage is stressed and Vlad has to look hard at the morality of his life on the fringes of the Dragaeran Empire. I enjoyed seeing a little more of Vlad's relationship with his grandfather in Teckla.

Brust's world of Dragaerans and Easterners is unique and murky, probably not for everyone. I enjoy it and have happily gone back for more at regular intervals over the years. While I would not recommend Vlad's lifestyle, I do appreciate his relationships with all the people around him - Dragaeran, Easterner and jhereg - especially the latter ...

'You know, boss - this place is a friggin' menagerie.
Very true, my fine jhereg.
Oh, we're a wit today; yes, indeed.

If you haven't tried this series yet or only came in late, go back to the beginning with this three episode omnibus The Book of Jhereg and see where it all began.

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