by Steven Brust



255pp/$22.95/July 2001

Cover by Stephen Hickman

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

One of the problems with a hyperbole-laden fantasy series is the continuous need to better oneself with each installment.  In Issola, Steven Brust engages Vlad Taltos in a battle between the Dragaerans and the Jenoine, the latter being a supernatural race who may have been responsible for the creation of the worlds and its gods.

The plot is extremely slow in building, and it isnít until the novel is practically complete that Brust reveals the purposes behind the Jenoineís attacks on Vlad and his friends.  Readers familiar with the series may find Vladís natural sarcasm toned down, perhaps in response to the title character, Lady Teldra, an Issola who acts as hostess at Moralanís Castle Black.

Brust clearly shows Vlad is a competent person, a trait which can be seen by everyone.  However, Vald is also afraid that his competence is a ruse, that he is nowhere near as able as others see him or as he, himself, would like to be.  While Brust has hinted at this in earlier novels, it stands out very strongly in Issola, perhaps because of the stakes or the fact that Vlad is unable to rely on most of his comrades, many of whom wind up relying heavily on him.

Issola is written with the assumption that the reader has a comfortable familiarity with the various characters who appeared in earlier novels who Vlad comes in contact with.  Since the earlier novels are being reprinted in omnibus editions, this may, in fact, prove to be a fair assumption.

One aspect of his world which Brust does not spell out in Issola is the role of the seventeen cycles and the houses that are formed.  Obviously, his focus in Issola is on that house, but it becomes very clear that the traits associated with the this house and the other houses leads to stereotyping the characters within those houses.  Through Brustís descriptions, the reader feels that peopleís personalities are created by their birth rather than by their environments to a degree which almost seems racist.

Despite ending the novel with a cataclysmic battle, Brust focuses his descriptions on Vladís personal reactions to his friends, his fears and his own random thoughts.  In this manner, the reader sees even less of this battle between enormous forces than Brust described in Dragon.  Issola, as with many of the Vlad Taltos novels, is a novel of characterization and introspection.  However, Brust manages to work in a reasonable amount of action.

The Jenoine remain almost as mysterious at the end of the novel as they were at the beginning.  Much of their machinations occur of stage and are seen only through  Vladís responses and conjecture.  At the same time, their general role in the history of Vladís universe become more clear.  The world which contains humans and Dragaerans suddenly has a background which begins to explain the formation of the world and its strange population.

Issola, the first Vlad Taltos novel in three years, makes it obvious that Brust still is comfortable in this world.  He takes his time to write a story he wants to write rather than simply turning out a book to meet contractual obligations.  This equates to a book which is high in quality, enjoyable to read, and which allows the author to craft his story the way he wants.  With luck, Brust will publish the next book in his series before Vladís twentieth anniversary in 2003.

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