Steven Brust’s The Lord of Castle Black is, I can now say, the second part of the longer work The Viscount of Adrilankha, rather than the second book in a trilogy. Why can I now say this? Because in the Preface, Paarfi (our historian narrator) informs us that “As for the entire question of splitting the book into several volumes, the author will not pretend to more knowledge than he has; if it is the custom of those who publish such works to make such mutilations, for whatever reason, then so be it. Nevertheless, it is a single work, and the suggestions that there may be some who possess only a part of it strikes the author as creating an intolerable situation for the reader.” (The reader, note.)
Paarfi, in his inimitable style, goes on to explain at length why he abhors the idea of writing a summary of the previous volume; however, since his publishers haven’t listened to him, well, here it is.
I’ve missed Paarfi.
I’ve also missed our friends, the protagonists of this series (I’ve spent enough time with them, over the four thick volumes to date, that I do think of them this way). When we left them at the end of Paths, Zerika had brought the Orb out of the Paths, but most of the characters were scattered. The titles of the two books comprising this volume summarize the general plot arc admirably: “In Which the Forces Are Brought Together That Lead Up to the Ninth (or Tenth) Battle of Dzur Mountain,” and “In Which the Ninth (or Tenth) Battle of Dzur Mountain Is Fought, With Some Discussion of Its Results.”
Battles of Dzur Mountain or no, the characters don’t get lost in the shuffle. As the title of this volume suggests, we see a considerable amount of Morrolan’s development in this volume, which seems largely consistent with what we know from the Vlad books (lest readers unfamiliar with the series think I’m accusing Brust of being prone to inconsistency—not in the least. It’s Paarfi (and Vlad, for that matter) whose accuracy is often open to question.). I shall particularly treasure the chapter where he goes to Dzur Mountain seeking tribute; that neither Morrolan nor Sethra would have told Paarfi the details of this, makes it no less amusing.
Speaking of titular characters, unexpected developments are afoot for Piro, the Viscount of Adrilankha, and his friends; I look forward to seeing how these play out in the final volume, Sethra Lavode (undergoing revisions as of July 17, 2003, according to the author’s no-permalinks web log). And there appear a number of characters from Khaavren books prior to Paths, or from the Vlad books, whose presences are certain to provoke much speculation. The four characters who began the series, Khaavren, Aerich, Tazendra, and Pel, are not neglected, as they all meet again for the first time in hundreds of years, with results that I shall leave it to you to read about. I must, however, note that I remain very fond of Tazendra and am always pleased when she gets a good moment; she has several in this volume.
[ Speaking of Khaavren, I am unable to resist quoting this bit of dialogue, which made me laugh out loud:
“They spoke of us.”
“Did they?” said Khaavren. “I am not startled. I ought to have noticed the back of my neck itching. My mother always said that if the back of your neck itches, someone is speaking ill of you.”
“Yes? I had not heard this. What if the back of your neck, rather than itching, hurts?”
“That means someone has stuck a knife into your neck.”
(I’ve elided the name of the second speaker; it’s probably not a spoiler, but I hesitated to say even as much about the plot as I have, so . . . ) ]
The story moves along smoothly, and even during the period where the forces are being brought together, it’s quite clear where everyone is and what everyone is doing; for someone as spatially disoriented as I, that’s saying something. And while we know that eventually the Empire is restored, we know so little else about Dragaeran history immediately after the Interregnum, that there’s plenty of suspense as to how we’re going to get there. There are hints dropped at the end of this volume that very different kinds of struggles may be at hand in volume three; I’m not sure what’s in store, but I’m very eager to find out.
One final note. The jacket copy (at Amazon) is so perfect that I must quote it:
Journeys! Intrigues! Sword fights! Young persons having adventures! Beloved older characters having adventures, too! Quests! Battles! Romance! Snappy dialogue! Extravagant food! And the missing heir to the Imperial Throne!
The Lord of Castle Black will be published in August. Go buy it when it comes out.
[ Edited August 11, 2003, when published version arrived. ]