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Dzur    by Steven Brust order for
by Steven Brust
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2007 (2006)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I've been reading and enjoying Stephen Brust's long-lived Dragaeran series from the beginning. Though at first, the mysteriousness of Vlad Taltos's alien world - where our kind of humans form a despised minority - irritated me, I've grown to enjoy learning more of it along with the smart alec Easterner anti-hero star. Vlad is an unscrupulous assassin, who's steadily ascended the ranks of House Jhereg, with a little help from powerful Dragaeran friends and allies along the way. He's partnered by his jhereg Loiosh, a small, poisonous reptilian with a peculiar sense of humor, recently joined by the jhereg's mate Rocza. Vlad's also begun to acquire the embryo of a conscience about his fellows, primarily due to his ex-wife Cawti.

Just back from years of absence in the East and his most recent adventures in Dragon and Issola that won him a Great Weapon (controlled by the soul of Lady Teldra) and lost him a finger, Vlad returns to his favorite restaurant, Valabar's, in the imperial city of Adrilankha for a meal that he eulogizes, course by course, to introduce the remaining chapters of the book. Indeed, the gourmet meal sounds so enticing that it's hard to move one's attention back to the action - and there's plenty of it. Vlad shares the dinner with the unusual Dzurlord Telnan, sent to him by Sethra, and with a role to play later in the story. Joining them at the table is legendary assassin Mario Greymist - he also plays a key part in events.

With a price on his head that makes a stay in the imperial city precarious, Vlad goes undercover in the Easterners' Ghetto (South Adrilankha) as Sandor, a timid slaughterhouse clerk. Vlad used to be a captain in the Right Hand of the Jhereg (think alien Mafia). Now the Left Hand of the Jhereg, run by female sorceresses, has arisen as a power in the city, and play a role in South Adrilankha. Cawti is in danger and Vlad intends to fix the situation. As he applies all his sources and resources to the problem, his life is complicated by his weapon's shapechanging and by the discovery that the Demon Goddess, Verra, has manipulated his past memories. With the help of all his friend - and the goddess - Vlad eventually makes a deal for the Jhereg to lay off the Easterners' Ghetto.

Though I saw the surprise at the end coming, this new complication in Vlad's life will certainly contribute to the continuation of this thoroughly engaging series. (If Vlad's adventures are new to you, I'd advise starting at the beginning.) As always, it's the nonstop banter between human and jhereg that keeps it going, as when Vlad tells Loiosh he wouldn't have appreciated a barley soup and his jhereg companion replies, 'No, I wouldn't have. Barley isn't food. Barley is what food eats.' Just like Valabar's, this series is to be savored - Dzur left me satiated, but keen to dine again soon.

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