Brust, Steven: (205) Sethra Lavode

I read Steven Brust’s Sethra Lavode, the concluding volume of The Viscount of Adrilankha (prior volumes: The Paths of the Dead and The Lord of Castle Black), quite a while ago. I’d planned to post about it just as it was released, to remind all six people who read this that it was time to buy it—and, of course, when our published copy arrived, I only had time to flip through it, not to re-read or post. These good intentions just aren’t working when it comes to delayed posting; next time I read something pre-publication I’m going to put it directly in the posting queue. After all, I often get far enough behind that I’d end up posting around the time of publication after all . . .

Anyway, Sethra Lavode. Interestingly, three of the four titles in this sequence are names, and none of the eponymous characters really dominate. Each named character is in the book, but the story is spread out among many different characters and the balance stays fairly constant over the series. (This is not a criticism, just an observation.) In particular, I think the reader learns more about Sethra Lavode in the Vlad books, or even in Five Hundred Years After, than in this book. This book is also tied much more closely to the Vlad books, specifically Issola, than the other Paarfi novels, to the extent that I think it would seem rather weird to someone who hadn’t read Issola.

As an individual book, this was a very enjoyable read. I have a quibble or two, but I turned pages rapidly, I smiled and sniffled and gasped and cursed Paarfi, who at one point opened a chapter with, roughly, “Surely you’ve been panting to know what happened—with something completely different than the shocker I just dropped in your lap? Right, let’s go talk about that, then.” As a conclusion to a three-volume work, and to the Paarfi books overall, well, unfortunately I can’t really say, because I haven’t had time to re-read the books as a whole. There were certainly series-long payoffs that I noted, but other things Paarfi appears have to left as unrealized dramatic irony (or something). Personally, while I liked the Viscount and his friends, my truest affection remains for Khaavren and co., who we started with all the way back in The Phoenix Guards, and it’s them I’m sorriest to leave behind. On their behalf, I’m glad that the very end of the novel, with its wrapping-ups and goodbyes, was very satisfying.

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  1. Quinn the Eskimo

    You can say no more to the end of the Khaavren Romances than “very satisfying”? You can find nothing from Paarfi more discursive – and annoying – than the paraphrased quote you provide? You fail to note that Paarfi, in addition to redefining “prolix” with every page, is also a big fat liar?

    Object, counsel, those are argumentative questions.

    Okay, but it is still a bummer.

  2. Oh, come on–anyone who knows Paarfi knows he’s a big fat liar (or, at the least, a fiction author rather than a historian). And the most memorable quote would have been a spoiler (the one about shrugging).

    But yeah, this wasn’t a fitting tribute to the end of the series. I did the best I could, and will try to do better when I re-read the whole thing.

  3. I read Sethra Lavade last night, and passed it on to my husband.

    Pluses:

    The pacing in this one was quickest of the trilogy: I nearly didn’t get through the first one.

    I can’t think of a storyline that wasn’t resolved. Of course, there were so many story lines….

    I liked the philosophical bits in this one.

    I think I got a higher percentage of the jokes.

    Khaavren made a much better showing in this one than the others of the trilogy.

    Minues:

    You know, I just don’t really LIKE Dragaerens. They are too violent.

    Other notes:

    Any idea when reincarnation became a practical procedure?

  4. Hi Kate,
    A very long time ago you’d asked me what I thought of Paarfi, given that I read the Paths of the Dead before the Phoenix Guards or 500 Years After. I’d meant to reply right then, but got side-tracked ….

    Anyway: My first impression of _Paths_ was “How far can I throw this without losing any of its resale value?” I abandoned it. But I read a lot of stuff about the earlier books, and how Paarfi is not really Brust, etc, that I decided to buy tPG.

    I finished PG in a day, and went and bought FYA, and finished it in a day also. I enjoyed the long-winded sentences, descriptions, redundancies that Paarfi obviously does not condone in anyone else. (I have a big soft spot for Wodehouse. I’ve never read Dumas.) So I went back to _Paths_ … and threw the book against the wall again.

    I think the big problem with the _Viscount_ series is that it has too little of the “good” Paarfi, too much of the “bad” Paarfi, and the dialogue and pacing is way too much like Brust. For example, the “I’ve been waiting an hour to hear it” schtick seemed to occur may be 3-4 times in TPG/FYA, whereas in _Viscount_ it recurred about every 4th page. The action was also way too fast for Paarfi, about what I might expect for a Vlad book.

    Anyway, I’ve finished the series now, and I’m not going to sell any of these books to a Used Bookstore: Liked the story very much.

    Rajesh

  5. Spoilers:

    There are two great moments that occur towards the end of Dumas’s _The Vicomte de Bragelonne_. One is Athos’s upbraiding of the young Louis XIV as having behaved unworthily. The other is the death of Porthos. Brust, as one might have expected, inserted versions of both of them into _Sethra Lavode_, and, as one might have hoped, matched Dumas in both cases.

  6. Rajesh: a number of people have commented on the varying degrees of Paarfi-ness in the series. I appear to have no ear for such a thing, so I just have to take their word for it.

    I’m glad you liked the story.

    (My slight preference for _Paths_ over _tPG_ is that I read _tPG_ first of all Brust, I believe, and his incluing about the world isn’t as smooth there as I think it is in _Paths_. It took reading _Jhereg_ to really understand what was going on in many ways.)

    Re: Mike’s comments: I haven’t read _Vicomte_, but a summary has made me aware that Brust deviates in significant ways from Dumas. In case anyone’s worried that they just got *specific* spoilers. =>

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