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March 2003
© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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The Book of Athyra by Steven Brust
Ace
Trade: ISBN 0441010105
PubDate Feb 03
Review by Edward Carmien
436 pages List price $14.00  
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For those scratching their heads and wondering “didn’t I read a book called Athyra already?” scratch no more. You’re right, you did (or you should have), if not when it was first published back in the mid-90’s then at some time since. The Book of Athyra is a reprint. Why the new title? Isn’t that a bit fishy?

Sure is. Orca-smelling, one might say (and don’t bust my chops about Orca being a mammal, ‘kay? I’m sure they still smell fishy), because this text includes Athyra and Orca in one volume. This makes a lot of sense, as the narrative of the former dovetails directly into the narrative of the latter. This pair of stories is therefore chronologically ordered both in the world of publishing and the world of Vlad Taltos, witch, assassin, and all around fantasy-noir type guy. That’s unusual for this outstanding Brust series. If you’re curious, the publishing chronology and the timeline chronology lists are both at the beginning of this book.

At the beginning of Athyra Vlad finds himself on the lam from the criminal organization of which he was part. He wanders the countryside with his two Jhereg (miniature dragon-like creatures), striving to stay alive and, perhaps, to come to grips with who he is.

Naturally, he finds trouble (or does it find him?), and in true I’m-not-a-detective-but-I-really-need-to-figure-a-mystery-out noir guy fashion clashes with an enemy from his past, not to mention a minion of that criminal organization mentioned earlier. Does he win out? Well, given the customs of the serial novel, one presumes he does. At what cost? There’s the rub.

Vlad pays that cost all throughout Orca, ferreting out corporate wrongdoings of Enron-like scale (years before Enron, please note) on behalf of someone who is helping him pony up the charge he incurred on his karmic credit card back in Athyra.

All of this is classic Brust. There is never enough of a Vlad Taltos novel. Vlad books do run slim, making this double-edition reprint a more satisfying read. They leave the reader yearning for more—another hallmark of a well-done serial novel. There is even a ground-rumbling revelation at the end of Orca that would do the Soap Opera industry proud (and if you’ve got a sharp eye, you’ll have a hint it is coming).

Sword fighting. Check. Witchcraft. Check. Sorcery. Check. High-end burglary. Check. Intrigue. Check. The sound and smell of onions hitting hot oil in a pan. Check. It is all here, and in trade paperback form, not much more expensive than picking up the individual copies new (not that you can, so far as I know). For those lucky enough to be making Vlad Taltos’s acquaintance for the first time, this is an excellent choice. For those who have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Vlad, or of reading about the complex and reliably “real” feeling world he inhabits, go forth now and find this well-armed mustached fellow. He first appeared in Jhereg, though his “first” tale is told in Taltos. Grab The Book of Athyra, too, but I suggest you pick an order (publication or timeline) and enjoy them that way.

What, you’re still here? G’wan, git.

 Associated reading: John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee series.

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