Steven Brust‘s Jhereg is the first in a long series of books, focusing on the adventures of Vlad Taltos, a witty, amiable, and ruthless assassin belonging to the House of Jhereg. He is accompanied by his familiar, Loiosh, and his shamed-Dragon assistant, Kragar, among a host of other characters in this truly epic cast.
The central plot of this book is that Vlad must find a way to kill a man who has stolen from the House of Jhereg, without betraying his employer’s oath that the man will not be harmed (while in his house). Forces conspire to raise the stakes at every turn, and Vlad learns much about the world he lives in and his own history along the way.
I came upon this series through the high recommendations of a friend, and had been told such good things about it that I probably was over-estimating how much I would enjoy it when I began reading. The story is written in a witty, sometimes curt first-person, and while I enjoyed the banter, at times I just wanted the story. For that reason, and the inexplicably large cast of characters that Vlad meets with in the first third of the story, I had a hard time getting through the first hundred pages. I would begin to read, and grow impatient, or bored, and finally, I’d put the book down.
However, there is a point in the book, starting when Vlad finally begins to piece the whole mystery together, that the writing, the characters, and the conflict all click together, and drive through to the end with surprising and exceptionally well-written tension. Once I got to that point, it was near impossible to put it down, and I am greatly looking forward to continuing the series. By the end, even characters that I was relatively unsure of had grown on me (particularly Morrolan and Kragar), and I am excited to see more of them in the future.
Had it not been for the cumbersome need to world-build in the beginning of the story (so that the later parts of the plot would make sense), I probably would have given this story five stars. As it stands, it’s still a very good book, and I can heartily recommend it to people who like games like Skyrim or Assassin’s Creed, or the idea of a cross-over between an evil Robin Hood and The Three Musketeers.
And, for fun, I happened across this when I was looking for a cover image to include with this post. Dylan Meconis, an illustrator and concept artist, created a bunch of cool sketches of the universe during a graphic novel pitch to Tor. (I don’t think it did very well, if it’s the same graphic novel… the reviews on Amazon aren’t very promising, unfortunately.) The images are fairly accurate to how I imagined the characters, even though I imagined Vlad a little more lean, and Morrolan, a little more broad, haha. Click the image to be taken to his gallery.
It’s sort of fitting that I finished the first novel in this series today, as I ended up buying N J the horribly immature but awesome “My Little Jhereg” pajamas from Brust’s Café Press store.