by Steven Brust
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Vallista, the latest entry in Steven Brustís long-running Vlad Taltos series, places his anti-hero into a strange manor from which there is not only no apparent means of departure, but which appears to defy the laws of geometry and architecture. Vladís exploration of the nearly vacant building permits him the luxury of a great deal of introspection as he tries to put together the pieces of the puzzle Brust has created for him.
Vladís admission to the palace seems relatively ordinary, at least as much as it can be when he is led into the palace by Devera. Once inside, she disappears, leaving Vlad on his own to learn what he can about Precipice Manor and how it relates to Devera and Vlad, himself. Along the way, he meets Lord Zhayin, her servants, entertainers, and ghosts, none of whom seem anxious to give him a straight answer to any questions he asks.
In many ways, reading about the palace in which Vlad finds himself has the feel of reading about a single character dungeon crawl. Vlad must try to figure out the physical laws the govern the building, the significance of the few items he finds in the vast rooms, and how the various people he meets, few and far between, relate to each other. While some of those characters appear to be tied to a specific set of rooms, others have more freedom to travel the halls, popping up and surprising Vlad as he pokes around.
Although he canít leave the manor, Vlad can make some jaunts outside its walls, and he can visit the Paths of the Dead, and alternative versions of the manor. Part of the mystery for him is where, and when, he travels to on those side trips as it is clear early on that even if the manor appears the same, there is something different about it. The manor isnít the only mystery that sinks its talons into Vlad, he also finds the need to learn as much as he can about the lordís family history and the few servants who remain within the manorís walls.
Once Vlad begins to figure out where he is and what is happening, Brust begins to offer the reader clues to the overarching mysteries of the series as a whole, with the beginning of an explanation of the Jenoine and their motives for involving themselves with Draegaran society.
While each of the Draegaran novels can stand on its own, and Vallista would appear to be able to since it takes place in an extremely limited venue, Brust has been weaving so many disparate threads together over the course of the fifteen novels that someone who picks up Vallista without prior knowledge of the series will find themselves almost as lost as Vlad when he first enters Precipice Manor. Furthermore, while Vlad can resolve his situation with exploration and his own knowledge, the new reader will lack the necessary knowledge to fully appreciate the book. Even readers who have been following the series would do well to re-read earlier books before opening Vallista.
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