Vallista by Steven Brust

Vallista Cover

Publisher: Tor

Australian Publication Date – 28 November 2017

World Publication Date – 17 October 2017

 

One of fantasy’s most iconic heroes returns in Vallista, the latest book from acclaimed fantasy writer Steven Brust.

In the world of Dragaera powerful and long-lived humanoids known as the Dragaerans are the planet’s dominant species, while humans, called Easterners, are second-class citizens.

Vlad Taltos is a rare anomaly, being an Easterner with a title, money and influence.  Having made his name as an enforcer and assassin, Vlad was a respected member of House Jhereg, the Dragaeran clan in charge of the Empire’s organised crime.  However, Vlad’s relationship with the Jhereg has deteriorated.  Having betrayed his clan, Vlad has spent the last few years on the run, hunted day and night by ruthless assassins.  Luckily, Vlad has friends in very high places, including the Empress, some powerful sorcerers, a necromancer and even a Dragaeran god.

Throughout his travels, Vlad has had several meetings with Devera, a small Dragaeran girl who is the daughter of one of his many powerful friends.  Devera is a mysterious creature of considerable power, an overabundance of enigma and a casual relationship with the rules of time.  Devera has once again appeared to Vlad, requesting his help and leading him to a mysterious manor that has suddenly materialised by the sea.

Despite the fact that the manor should not even exist, Vlad enters, only to find himself trapped with the manor’s mysterious inhabitants.  The inside of the manor is a weird collection of rooms and corridors altered by magic and no longer obeying the rules of reality.  Mirrors teleport people from room to room, mysterious portals lead to the ancient past, and a certain door leads to the Halls of Judgement, the Dragaeran afterlife.

The more Vlad explores, the more he understands that the manor is home to many lies and death.  The overly helpful servants are determined to keep the manor’s past a secret.  No one will explain how an unused and empty kitchen keeps providing Vlad with warm meals.  On top of this, Vlad encounters a ghost unaware of how she died, a mutant deformed by magic, and a powerful demon determined to kill him.

In order to escape, Vlad must uncover the manor’s bloody history and reveal all of its inhabitants’ dark secrets.  With his sarcastic familiars and a sentient sword to aid him, Vlad must use every trick at his disposal to survive while trying to interpret some beguiling visions of his own past lives.  If only Devera, his only guide, would stop disappearing in the middle of every conversation.

Vallista is the 15th book in Brust’s iconic Vlad Taltos series, and is set before the 14th book in the series, Hawk.

One of the most appealing features of Brust’s books has always been their trademark combination of fantasy world-building, action, adventure and fun comedic undertone.  Brust continues this trend in Vallista, creating a fast-paced book that delivers several exhilarating action scenes and a good amount of comedy without compromising the fantasy elements of the plot.  Fans of the Vlad Taltos series will be excited to see an in-depth look at Devera, a minor character who has long mystified readers, as well as visions into several of the titular character’s past lives.

Brust also has an enjoyable habit of combining elements of other genres into his stories.  This ensures that many of the books in the Vlad Taltos series are transformed into different genres, such as murder mysteries, political thrillers or heists contained within the fantasy setting.  Vallista continues this trend with its interesting and unique fantasy mystery.  The main character is forced to uncover the secrets of the mysterious manor in which he is trapped in order to escape.  As a result, Vallista reads a lot like a typical mystery, which is enhanced by the book’s various fantasy elements.

Vallista also borrows several elements from classic haunted house tales.  The main character is trapped and imperilled, the house is filled with servants reluctant to reveal their secrets, and ghosts, monsters and strange events are around every corner.  However, as this is a fantasy book, our hero has far more experience in dealing with such things, and quite a lot of the book’s humour revolves around Vlad responding to the manor’s various challenges.

Unsurprisingly, this book will appeal greatly to those readers who enjoyed the previous instalments of the Vlad Taltos series.  At the same time, this is one of the most inclusive fantasy series that I have ever read.  Burst is very good at succinctly explaining the universe’s lore so that new readers will easily be able to enjoy Vallista every bit as much as any seasoned veteran of the Vlad Taltos series.

Overall, Vallista is fun fantasy adventure that will appeal both to Brust’s established fans and to casual fantasy readers.

My Rating:

Four stars