Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Jhereg, by Steven Brust
Jhereg follows the life of Vlad Taltos, who is apparently talked about more in other books but this is the first time we meet him and his jhereg familiar, Loiosh. Vlad is an Easterner or human, at least what passes for human in this series. A good chunk of the world is ruled by the Dragaeran Empire, the Dragaerans being a tall, long-lived species with an affinity for sorcery and other abilities. So...kind of elves and yet kind of not at the same time? It's a little confusing. As a result Easterners, aka humans, have second-class citizen status within the Empire. Anyway, the Dragaeran are divided into seventeen different houses with different specialties. The Dragons, for example, are great warriors and generals, while the Jhereg are spies, thieves, and assassins. Vlad's father actually purchased a title within the Jhereg House, making Vlad have something approaching equal rights with the Dragaerans but still the taint of being an Easterner by blood.
The plot centers around an assassination mission that Vlad has been hired for by one of the members of the Jhereg council, known only as ''The Demon''. Apparently an individual named Mellar has absconded with over nine million gold imperials of the council's operating funds. Aside from seriously hampering council operations, if word of Mellar's theft leaks out and he remains unpunished then the respect and fear that most of the criminal underworld has for the Jhereg council will disappear overnight, permanently weakening the house's power. Vlad has to find Mellar soon and take him out, the only trouble being nobody knows exactly where he's gone.
The plot is pretty good and Brust does a really excellent job of world-building in his book. I could have used a little more exposition, but it does manage to avoid that ''as you should already know'' lectures of exposition that some sci-fi and fantasy series fall prey to very easily. I can see that Brust has developed a very complex world in his mind and I kind of wish we'd gotten to explore it more in a longer book, rather than the 240 page book that we ended up getting. But there is the possibility that the world gets explored more in-depth in later books.
There are also a couple of plotlines that get introduced but are really incidental to the ''we need to kill Mellar so everyone takes Jheregs seriously'' plotline, to the point I almost feel like Brust was cramming too much stuff in. As I said it's a pretty short book so I almost wonder if we might have gotten more about the assassination plot if he wasn't throwing in all these big side plots which make the world feel a lot more complex, although sometimes feeling a little too complex.
Overall this was a short and pretty interesting read. This definitely felt like Brust had enough ideas to make this a huge, door-stopper tome like some of Martin's books or other fantasy books that I've read. But its brevity makes it a good weekend read. If anything, I wish it had been at least a little longer for some more development and in-depth exploration.