Brust, Steven: (109) Issola

I’m not dead, I’m just . . . failing to rest, actually. Did I mention that exams suck? They suck enough that, after my second one, I really needed something with snappy dialogue to get me out of my funk. Put that way, the choice was easy: Steven Brust’s Issola.

I meant to re-read this slowly and savor the narration and dialogue, but the story sucked me right in, even though I know what happens. This is the second of the hard turns the Vlad Taltos series has taken (the first being Teckla), and so much interesting stuff is revealed, or hinted at, that one hardly knows where to start. The current medium makes it easier, though, as most of the really interesting stuff would be huge spoilers, which I try to avoid here; I’ll just sketch the opening hook.

Vlad Taltos, former assassin, witch, outcast, and king of First-Person Smartass Narration, is camping in the wilderness while on the run for his life; he is quite surprised to be woken in the middle of the night by—of all people—the exquisitely civilized and polite Lady Teldra, whose job, as far as we know at that point, is welcoming people to Morrolan e’Drien’s floating castle. Morrolan and Aliera e’Kieron have gone missing—which is a good trick for two highly skilled sorcerers in a land where sorcery is ubiquitous, not to mention for wielders of Great Weapons in a land where it’s moderately easy to get one’s hands on a weapon that will instantly suck out someone’s soul.

If you’ve read any of the Vlad books, that setup will (or did) have you drooling where you sit. If you haven’t, I hope you get a sense of why lots of people were bouncing in anticipation this summer—but I also hope you don’t run out and buy Issola, because it’s a rotten place to start the series. Run out and buy The Book of Jhereg instead; it’s an omnibus of the first three books in the series.

I enjoyed the heck out of this, and can’t wait to see where Brust goes with it. (I’ll have to, though, as he is currently working on the also-long-awaited Viscount of Adrilankha. Fine by me . . . ) There’s so much fun dialogue that it was hard to pick just one excerpt, but I really ought to be getting back to studying, so here’s an early passage. (The bits in italics are, of course, psionic communication between Vlad and his familiar, Loiosh.)

She [Teldra] laughed. You never know if an Issola is laughing to be polite. I resolved not to try to be funny around her.

How long do you think that will last, Boss?

We finished our coffee at about the same time and called for more, which was brought with a cheer and alacrity that showed the hostess had fallen under Teldra’s spell. No surprise there.

I said, “So Kiera told you how to find me, Sethra did the locating, and Morrolan let you go into his tower and use one of his Magical Mystical Powerful Transcendental Wizard windows to get here. What I’d like to know—”

“Not exactly,” said Teldra.

“Oh?”

“Morrolan didn’t exactly let me use his window.”

“Go on.”

“Morrolan . . . that is, I didn’t ask him.”

“You didn’t ask him.”

“I couldn’t. I didn’t—that is, I don’t know where he is.”

“I see. I begin to see. I think I begin to see.”

“Perhaps I should begin at the beginning.”

“Arbitrary. But still, not a bad choice.”

Almost a minute, Boss. Good work.

Shut up, Loiosh.

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