Wednesday, 28 October 2020 20:33

Review: Jhereg (Vlad Taltos) Featured

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Note: Review #4 of the Drunken Monkey Book Club

Review by Daniel Ruth

Overall Score:45star

I read about Vlad Taltos for the first time about 30 years ago. He's a smart, witty, rogue with a cutting tongue and a plan for every occasion. He's also an assassin. However, he's so friendly you may just forget that he may be the deadliest thing on two legs around. Well, except for his friends. They are far deadlier.

This book may have been one of the first in the urban fantasy concept.  There are extenuating circumstances, of course, in that it takes place in another world.  With an alien race similar to humans but with a lifespan of thousands of years.  They also have characteristics of alien animals, of which each book in the series is named after.  Despite the fantastical setting, this feels like an urban fantasy.  It has all the earmarks of the genre, first-person perspective, witty stream of consciousness, and politics.  Frankly, with the world-building integrated so smoothly into the point of view description, it just doesn't feel alien.  It like your favorite urban fantasy detective stepped into the next world over started a business while you weren't looking.  He just does "work" on the side.

It's hard to imagine an assassin as a hero.  Or at least now it is.  When I was younger pirates and assassins could be heroes and rescue the maidens with the best of the heroic legends.  Nowadays, it's a bit harder for me to reconcile the two, but Vlad is just so darn likable.  Sure, he kills people but, at least the ones you know of, they were bad people.  There are unpleasant hints that this wasn't always the case but the events in the books are, for the most part, heroic tales.  The darker side of the story exists, but with Vlad's inner conversation whispering in your ear, he convinces you... and himself, that he has the moral high ground, or at least it was done for the greater good. 

This is true throughout the entire series.  The world he lives in has vibrant politics and conflicts and it's hard to find what you would consider a truly moral person.  The various alien "Houses" each have their own morals, which we find out is actually firmly embedded in their genetic code.  This makes some interactions extreme, yet understandable once you know the rules.  It's actually interesting to see how humans interact with species that have certain behavior partly hardwired into them.  Once you understand the world he lives in, you also start to understand how Vlad turned out to be that cheerfully witty killer, doing the best he can in a rather brutal world.

Although this was the first book in the series, the later books are not written in chronological order.  Despite this, the book is self-contained and has everything you need to get to know who Vlad is and start to peek into the world around him.  Every book is mostly like this, each one making the world's lore and politics richer and more real.  You don't need to read these in chronological order to understand the world, but if you want to, the author has a handy timeline to help you out.  The books have been republished from their original form into several omnibuses in the order they were published.  If you choose to follow the timeline it is still easily done. 

No matter how you choose to read this series, the world will delight and flood your senses with many morally ambiguous heroic actions.  I am sure you'll be able to convince yourself that everything he did was absolutely necessary just as Vlad convinces himself.

Read 102 times Last modified on Wednesday, 28 October 2020 23:46
Daniel Ruth

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