Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash: Pick Two (aghrivaine) wrote,
Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash: Pick Two

Review: Dzur

Dzur by Stephen Brust

If like me, you're a long time fan of Stephen Brust, you'll be glad to see Dzur; like the return of an old friend, Dzur marks the return of the protagonist (I can't really call him a hero...) Vlad Taltos to the city of Adrilankha, and the noir-ish style that started the series off. One of Brust's great talents is in experimenting with different styles and pulling them all off. Within the Taltos series alone we've seen film noir, polemics, mysteries, and others. But it's Vlad's voice as narrator, as the gritty street-level tough that made the series endearing, and I was pleased to come back for a visit. Other branches of the series (same world, different characters) have had a strongly Dumas pastiche feel to them that was thoroughly. So much so that I nearly think a good friend of mine and I were writing to each other in a style that, were you particularly or even slightly familiar with the works of Mr. Paarfi of Roundhill, you would perhaps find it strangely familiar - or rather, not strangely familiar at all, but in fact precisely familiar - as our intent from the very beginning was to evoke that singular cadence and savoire-faire so excellently realized in works like "the Pheonix Guard" and "Five Hundred Years After". But I digress.

The point is, Brust can do pretty much anything he sets his (cantankerous) linux word-processor to doing - so when returning to an older, simpler style, he's faced with a particular challenge. That is, he's got to do it better than he did before, or it will seem like he's being lazy. As we might expect we get everything that a tough-guy Vlad book ought to have - wise-cracking side-kicks, shrewd criminals, plenty of action, and the very likeable voice of the narrator, Vlad Taltos himself. But where Brust has improved is this - he's pared his writing down to its bare essentials. Like the music of Van Morrison, there's nary a wasted note or word - every little bit is essential. The advantage to such a spartan writing style is that when the vivid descriptors do come out, they have that much more impact. In a word, I'd call Dzur adroit - things that don't need to be spelled out aren't - things that need to have impact are full-front and in-your-face. You can bet any included detail will be important somewhere in the plot - and you can bet that when the narrator's sense of time seems to get particularly stuttering and jumpy - something stressful is going on. The effect is to propel the reader along with a strong sense of urgency and danger and no clear sense of resolution until everything ties up at the end. Since it's a first-person narrative, this necessarily means that Vlad isn't entirely sure of what's going to happen next, either - he can never get more than one jump ahead of the people that are pursuing him - which makes a swift, tense story that moves along at a breakneck pace.

Each chapter is prefaced by a loving, almost pornographic description of a lengty meal at Vlad's favorite restaurant. It's an interesting device because it's the one time that Vlad lets himself wax poetic about something he is enthusiastic about - and also demonstrates how deeply familiar with both cooking and eating Brust himself is. I was privileged to have a meal cooked by Mr. Brust and can say that his real-world skills as a gourmand probably rival Valabar's. Ethnic recipes that blur the line between real-world Hungarian and fantasy-world "Easterner" have always been a part of the Taltos series - but here they take center stage. I've got a long list of Draghaeran foods I want to try, and Dzur added substantially to that list. I'll have to find out which, if any have real-world analogues.

If I had a nitpick it's that the ending, after a long build up, comes too suddenly, and seems a bit disappointing in that there are many loose ends left dangling. By omitting the denoument, the pace and sparsity of the story is reinforced - but there's a certain lack of satisfaction in not knowing what the results of Vlad's labors are. It certainly seems as though there will be more volumes, however - which I look forward to immensely.

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