by Steven Brust
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The first several novels of Steven Brust's "Vlad Taltos" series were told in the first person narrative by the eponymous character. However, when Vlad left Adrilankha at the end of Phoenix, he apparently left his writing quills at home. Begining with Athyra and continuing in Orca, Vlad has given up his status as narrator. While Brust was reasonably successful in making the peasant boy, Savn, Vlad's chronicler in the previous novel, Kiera's narration in Orca does not achieve the same success. One reason for this may be the various levels of the novel. Kiera is telling the story to Cawty, having heard it from Vlad. When Kiera is the protagonist, she refers to herself in the first person and Vlad in the third. When Vlad takes over the action and Kiera is off-stage, Brust refers to Vlad in the first person, making it confusing, at times, to keep straight who is performing the action.
Orca is a mystery novel. Vlad and Kiera are trying to discover whether an Orca banker was killed or died accidentally. Of course, they favor the idea he was killed. Brust demonstrates that he learned the art of mystery writing from Arthur Conan Doyle. Although Vlad has all the information he needs to solve the conspiracy (which is quite complex), Brust does not provide the reader with the same information, just as Holmes was able to solve crimes by relying on clues which Conan Doyle did not provide the reader.
This unwillingness to share all the clues with the reader comes into play in another place. Brust includes two surprises at the end of the novel. Although one of them is quite obvious from nearly the beginning of the book, the other is a surprise which literally comes out of nowhere. Brust refers to the clues which Vlad uses to discover the secret, however it is doubtful whether a reader would be able to pick up on those same clues without knowing about them in the first place.
I enjoy Steven Brust's writings, although I find the earlier Vlad Taltos books more entertaining than the later books in the series. Orca is a good novel, although not, I feel, on par with those earlier books. I do look forward to the future adventures of Vlad, as well as the next book in the "Khaavran romances", which are based, quite closely, on Alexander Dumas's "D'Artagnan romances". If you've read about the world these novels are set in, this book should definitely be on your reading list. If you have yet to make an acquaintance with Vlad, I would recommend tracking down Jhereg or Yendi as a starting place.
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