by Steven Brust
Edited by Teresa Neilsen Hayden
Cover Artist: Stephen Hickman
Review by Andrea Johnson
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765301475
Date: 08 July 2008 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Similar to Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, you certainly don't need to read the books in the order in which they were written, but it helps to start somewhere near the beginning so the reader has some background with the characters. For readers new to Brust's Vlad Taltos novels, although I highly suggest reading Jhegaala, I wouldn't suggest reading it first. A reader who is familiar with the Vlad Taltos novels will notice this one is titled after yet another family in the Empire, and will look for Brust's clues on how Vlad's experiences here might mirror that of a Jhegaala (the Family and the animal).
Jhegaala opens with the Vlad Taltos we know and love, but depressed. Recently divorced, and in deep trouble with the Jhereg family business, Vlad decides it's the perfect time for a trip out to the country. In fact, he has cousins out in the city of Burz that he's never met, and the timing couldn't be better for him to go visiting. A human raised in the Draegeran Empire, Vlad has much to learn about the Human kingdoms where his family came from. After a crash course in human religion and slang from his grandfather, Vlad is on his way. Burz is a small human town, on the edge of the Kingdom – populated by superstitious peasants, a stinky paper mill, a "Guild' which doesn't seem to represent anyone, a secretive coven of witches, and a Count who has his own interests to protect.
Vlad spends his first few days in town getting the lay of the land and asking about his family, a clan named Merss. These may be his people, and possibly his family, but he hasn't a clue how to interact with them. And with a sword at his side, and a dragon on each shoulder, the townspeople aren't quite sure what to make of him either. After a pile of strange looks, someone finally tells him where their estate can be found on the edge of town. The next morning Vlad finds the Merss estate burnt to the ground, the bodies still warm. Frustrated, paranoid, and a little scared, Vlad wants to know who has done this, and why. Has the Jhereg family followed him all the way out here, and what lengths will they go to to punish him? What is going on with the triumvirate of the small, sleepy town of Burz?
I mentioned earlier that I don't recommend reading this book first, if you are new to this series, because I don't want readers new to the series to think that all these books are sad and depressing, with a lonesome protagonist. Vlad is completely out of his element, away from his wife, his friends, his team, his home. He spends most of this book depressed and distracted, promising to talk about it when he's ready. Whatever it is that happened must have been pretty serious, because he isn't usually like this. He's usually knee deep in trouble and loving it (instead of falling into traps around every corner) and getting an almost perverse adrenaline rush off doing his job well (instead of dragging his feet all the time). He better snap out of it soon, otherwise there won't be much of him left to return to the Empire.
Quite a bit darker than previous Vlad Taltos novels I've read, I still couldn't put Jhegaala down. Little jokes here and there, mixed with Brust's standard sarcastic style keeps this an active and good read. Recommended to readers who enjoy suspense and mysteries set in a fantastical world. And if you are new to Steven Brust, there are plenty of other novels and novellas starring Vlad Taltos to help bring you up to speed.