'Shut up, Loiosh.' -- Vlad Taltos, on any number of occasions.
Robert here -- the real Robert, not that time-lost lunatic who wanders around looking through things. And yes, I picked that quote to head this week's issue -- it strikes me as the quintessential Steven Brust quote. There were other possibilities -- there always are with him. Oh, but wait a minute -- there's been the wildest story going around the House about an early morning mystery...
I studied the lock mechanism for a long time--like, maybe five minutes -- trying to figure out how to defeat it. That's how long it took me to realize the door wasn't locked. No, I am not proud of this. It was quicker checking it for mundane alarms, of which there were none. There was something else there, too -- it wasn't anything I was familiar with, and I wasn't sure what it did, but I was pretty sure I didn't want it doing whatever it was supposed to do. I drew, and touched the hilt to the door, and that was that.
The door creaked loudly as I opened it. That was irritating. Why don't people keep those things lubricated? Doesn't it drive them nuts every time someone goes through it? Not to mention that it isn't helpful to people like me trying to break in.
I remained very still for about two minutes, but I didn't hear anything, so I let the door close again -- slowly, which made the creak last longer, but it wasn't quite as loud. I pulled out a glowstone, and dug out the map of the Green Man complex. I should have memorized it.
I followed the route, past a few bedrooms (there was an odd chirping sound coming from one of them; another had a smoky, peppery smell, but I didn't stop to investigate). There was also a closet full of strange, white furniture that probably had to do with their religion, and some storage rooms. Eventually, I found the place I was looking for. I stood outside it -- there was a doorway, but no door -- and went through the objects I'd brought with me--there's nothing worse than getting into the heat of it and finding out that your favorite knife isn't where it should be.
Everything checked out; I stepped through the doorway. The kid sleeping by the hearth stirred, woke up, and looked at me. For a second he reminded me of Devera, only a boy. I touched my finger to my lips and muttered a few syllables, and he went back to sleep.
A second glowstone, and I could see well enough to work. Pots and pans were on hooks overhead, mixing bowls in the drawer, food in the pantry to my left and in the big white box next to the sink.
I got to work. I hoped the Green Man crew would enjoy their breakfast.
I won't speculate on the identity of the 'Breakfast Thief,' or on the name of the dagger he used to nullify the spell on the door. I suspect the Chief is going to have to call on our friends across the Border to replace it, though.
I'm sure you're wondering why I called you here. Although I would have thought, being the bright bunch you are, you'd have it figured out by now . . .
I suspect that most of Steven Brust's fans came to his writing by way of The Taltos Cycle (in which, by the way, food plays an important role -- in fact, Dzur is framed by a dinner). We've come to this series several times, from several different directions. As you read through Michael M. Jones' impressive omnibus review of the first nine volumes of The Taltos Cycle, you notice something about these novels -- there are layers and layers of layers. They're all very Yendi-like. (If you don't know what that means, you can start where I did with the series, which is -- well, Yendi.).
Fast-paced, action-packed, and brilliantly constructed, each one has more layers than an onion, and more twists than a maze designed by a blind man on a drunk mule. The fight scenes are full of swash and buckle, both epic and gritty in extent, easy to visualize and fun to follow. The complexity of the plots and the mindbendingly convoluted nature of the stories make them a joy to try and unravel before Vlad does.
Jones hits on something I've noticed about Brust's writing -- it's fun. Not just the unraveling part, but the whole thing. (I have to admit, I'm more than happy just to go along for the ride and watch Vlad putting it all together.)
One is tempted to call forth the memory of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe . . . but Wolfe worked by logic, and Vlad most certainly does not. The game here is really pretty standard for Vlad -- talking to people who tell him things they don't know they're telling him -- or tell him things they can't tell him by telling him something else. (Sethra Lavode is really good at that.) And Vlad does have a knack for putting seemingly unrelated elements together and coming up with something.
(One gets the distinct feeling that Brust was having fun writing it, too.)
Jones also noted something that I commented on as well, something that keeps the series from dying in the traces: Vlad changes, he matures. As I said when discussing Jhegaala,
Vlad himself has added another dimension, grown more reflective, less impulsive, less abrasive (well, a little bit), perhaps, in a way, more human, less a 'character' than a personality.
It's a trend that is even more marked in Iorich, at this point the latest book in the saga (although I have it on the best authority that Tiassa is well underway). Brust is a subtle writer in many ways, and the development of Vlad through the series is only one example of that.
And Steven Brust is a Trickster. GMR habitués know that we treasure Tricksters here -- and also understand that I mean somewhat more by that than 'sneaky' -- there are other dimensions to that archetype that come into play here, which I think you'll see as we go along.
He is sneaky, no doubt about it -- his artistry is so completely transparent that you don't know it's there until you back up a step or two and look very hard at what you've been reading. Well, all right. Sometimes it's very obvious that he's been playing games, for example in The Khaavren Romances, which start off with, as Brust puts it, a 'blatant rip-off of Dumas.' But the games are in fun, and he's playing with the medium, not with the reader -- unlike several writers who shall remain nameless, who like to mess with your head.
We actually examined The Khaavren Romances twice here at GMR -- or parts of them once and the whole thing once.
Grey Walker, whose first encounter with Brust's work was the first two volumes of the third book in the series (I'll explain that in a minute), had a somewhat ambivalent reaction, based mostly on the style -- she said it was 'like a demented Dumas attempting to channel Sabatini.' Well, yes, in a way, but... I had the advantages of 1) being already familiar with Brust's work (and as Walker pointed out, 'This man can write!'), so 2) I was prepared for the fun and games -- including the 'channeling', having been very fond of Sabatini as a teenager. There was also the fact that I liked the idea of a five-volume trilogy. Yes, it truly is a five-volume trilogy. Let me explain -- better yet, let Steven Brust explain:
The Viscount of Adrilankha is not a trilogy, it is a three volume novel. That is, it should be thought of as a single book. The Khaavren Romances are, in fact, a trilogy, of which Viscount is the third novel. Therefore, these five books are clearly seen to be a trilogy consisting two one-part novels and one three-part novel. Each part consists of two 'books.' Therefore, chapter four of book two of part three of the third book is easily seen to be chapter fifty two of the third novel, or chapter one hundred and twenty of...
There -- is that all clear now?
So when I looked at the complete series, I came to a different conclusion:
It is not often that an author can make me laugh out loud, and almost unheard of that I will do so because of the way he has rendered dialogue -- not the content, mind you, but the actual speech itself -- and yet there are passages in both of the initial volumes in which I simply cannot keep a straight face... These exchanges become a repeating pattern, almost a leitmotiv.
That's only one of the fun parts of this series -- read the reviews to see what I'm talking about.
Brust is not only a writer of series. He's done a number of stand-alone novels that reveal a wide range of strategies and approaches. Or as he put it, 'Figuring out a cool way to tell the story, in which the way the events unfold play off the events in interesting ways, is one of the fun parts of doing this.'
To Reign in Hell is one of Brust's earliest novels. William P. Simmons had a poetic take on a poetic retelling of an old story.
With a dark charm and grace no less endearing and seductive than the prince of darkness himself, To Reign in Hell . . . is a deliciously decadent voice leading you off the same tired, beaten path and into the wilderness of primal miracle and possibility.
My own take was somewhat more prosaic: I found it formally adventurous and solidly grounded.
Formal flexibility is one of Brust's hallmarks -- he's a remarkably versatile writer. When I read Brokedown Palace, I noted that 'The narrative as a whole takes on the character and tone of a fairy tale, with that kind of spiky and distanced diction and the sense that something magical is looking over your shoulder as you read.'
Jack Merry did not like Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grill, Brust's science fiction novel. (Everyone writes a science fiction novel.) I may be the only person in the world, aside from those anonymous Irish musicians that Merry mentioned, who does. Reportedly, Brust doesn't even like it.
We have the advantage of another of Mike Jones' looks at Brust, this time commenting on Agyar among a group of vampire novels.
The plot is deceptively simple, the writing evocative and sharp, and the characters fascinating. Agyar is almost the perfect 'unvampire' novel . . . conjuring up enough images to let the reader draw their own conclusions . . . [H]e manages to obtain a splendid blend of mystery and horror and romance, playing on the allure of the unknown and the magic of the concept.
And there's something in that one that might be unexpected if you are only familiar with the series -- it reveals Brust as a very serious writer, fully able to portray the depth of human experience.
Brust has also collaborated on a couple of major works. Rowan Inish had this to say about Freedom & Necessity:
[T]here are enough fantasy authors out there intent on sidestepping clichés to keep readers who crave something different and challenging on their toes. Chief among their ranks are Steven Brust, who had the chutzpah to go Milton one better in To Reign in Hell, and Emma Bull, whose War for the Oaks stands ever more clearly revealed these days as one of the cornerstones of modern low fantasy. Put the two of them together on one project and the safe money is that the book is going to be witty, urbane, fast-moving and utterly fearless.
Brust came up with a group of works that I lump together under the overall rubric 'The Gypsy Suite' -- two novels, one solo and one in collaboration with Megan Lindholm, and a song cycle, written in collaboration with Adam Stemple and performed by Boiled in Lead. Chuck Lipsig, some while back, looked at the group and confessed to a certain amount of puzzlement. I, being me, of course came to this all out of order, reading The Gypsy first, then listening to Songs From the Gypsy, and finally reading The Sun, the Moon and the Stars. Whatever, reservations Lipsig may have had (and I do see his point), I consider The Gypsy a true and telling work of literature, and the song cycle as one of the most affecting I have ever heard. (My personal favorite is 'Blackened Page,' while GMR staff voted for 'The Gypsy.')
All of which leads us (quite naturally, you will notice, with no mention of the hours of brain-sweat involved in making it work that way) to the fact that Brust is also a musician. Brust was involved with a couple of bands, most notably Cats Laughing and Flash Girls. Mia Nutick said of the two Cats Laughing CDs she reviewed,
So you're to be forgiven if you've seen references to Cats Laughing in novels like Bone Dance or the Bordertown series and assumed that they were only another fictional group like Wild Hunt or Eldritch Steel. But if that was your assumption, it's time you learned the truth: Cats Laughing were very real, and they were one hell of a band .&nbs;. ,
As for Flash Girls, Mike Jones noted that Brust contributed 'dumbek as well as lyrical assistance' on Play Each Morning Wild Queen. One wonders.
And, being Steven Brust, he came out with a solo album, A Rose for Iconoclastes (if you're a Zelazny fan, you'll get the reference). I have to admit it surprised me, but I'm not quite sure why. (Oh, and about that Zelazny connection: Brust admits to being a fan, and wrote an introduction for Zelazny's Manna from Heaven, and Zelazny had previously written an introduction for To Reign in Hell. There -- that's at least a starting point.)
I interviewed Brust a couple of years ago, which is how I learned a lot of this stuff. One thing we didn't talk about was his short fiction, of which there's not much, but stories have showed up, in the first volume of The Year's Best Fantasy and in the Bordertown series. (And I have it on that same best authority that another story is slated for Sword and Sorceress #25.)
So, now that you know all that we know about Steven Brust, you can either 1) head for the nearest bookstore and stock up, or 2) hit your shelves and start rereading. I'm waiting for Tiassa.
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Kage Baker (1952 to 2010)
J.R.R. Tolkien (1892 to 1973)
Kage Baker reading her
A reading from Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn
Elizabeth Bear reads The Chains that You Refuse
Black 47's 'Liverpool Fantasy'
An excerpt from Paul Brandon's The Wild Reel novel
Emma Bull and Will Shetterly's The War for The Oaks movie trailer
Nicholas Burbridge's 'Open House'
Cats Laughing's 'For It All'
Charles de Lint performing his 'Sam's Song'
Charles de Lint -- Some thoughts on his fiction
Gaelic Storm's 'Kiss Me'
Christopher Golden's 'The Deal'
The opening chapter of The Weaver and The Factory Maid, the first novel in Deborah Grabien's Haunted Ballad series.
An excerpt from Deborah Grabien's Rock & Roll Never Forgets -- A JP Kinkaid Mystery
'The Winter Queen Reel' (played by Roger Landres), composed in honour of Jane Yolen
Chuck Lipsig on 'Star of Munster' variations
McDermott's 2 Hours' 'Fox on the Run'
An excerpt from James Stoddard's 'The High House'
Tinker's Own performing 'The Tinker's Black Kettle', a jig by Charles de Lint from The Little Country
Vagabond Opera's 'Marlehe'
A Vasen tune for your enjoyment
Cathrynne Valente's 'The Surgeon's Wife'
Cathrynne Valente reading a selection titled 'The Tea Maid and The Tailor' from The Orphan's Tales
Robin Williamson's 'Five Denials on Merlin's Grave'
Archived 12 June, 2012 LLS