Continuing the consolidation of the inestimable Vlad Taltos adventures, Tor presents Dzur and Jhegaala. If you look at The Cycle on page 7, you will see that these two Houses are as near opposite as possible with a prime division into 17 parts; opposite in temperament as well as location, for Dzur represent “Heroism & Honor” while Jhegaala embody “Metamorphosis and Endurance.”
Dzur is one of the most popular books Brust has written to date, in which mouth-watering descriptions of a multi-course meal at Valabar’s alternate with Vlad’s efforts to wrest control of
from the Left Hand of the Jhereg and bestow some degree of autonomy to the people who live there. He is assisted by Telnan, a Dzur lord who is studying with Sethra Lavode, as well as by Daymar, the literal-minded natural philosopher; Kragar, the hard-to-detect former Dragon lord; and Morrolan, who likes to fight and only needs a reason. Oh, yeah, and Vlad finally finds out that he’s a father and gets to meet his son. The plot is crackling, the writing wry, sparkling with sarcasm; but at heart this is a celebration of all that makes life good, especially friendships.
Jhegaala, on the other hand, is to my mind the saddest of the books, even the humor of the chapter headings has a bitterness to it. Vlad is on the run from the Jhereg, who don’t just want him dead, they want his very soul destroyed; so, after spending time with his grandfather, he travels East to find if he has any living relatives from his mother’s side of the family. Vlad has stumbled into hornets’ nests before or been pushed and he has deliberately instigated events ranging from turf war to regicide, but this time his intent is so innocuous and benign that it seems all the more ghastly when things go wrong. Vlad endures a great deal of hardship along the way; as for metamorphosis, each Part begins with a description of a phase of Jhegaala transformation which anticipates the action that follows. After this, Vlad is no longer an impulsive young man. In the past, he didn’t much care who died, because he was angry and he was an Outsider. He could always take refuge in the notion that his people were better than Dragaerans, or at least, they could be if they weren’t oppressed. Now he has his nose rubbed in it that paranoia, cruelty, and pig-headedness seem to be universal among bipeds; and he finally realizes that he is essentially more Dragaeran than human. Maybe it’s that problematic soul of his, the nature of which caused so much consternation in Taltos.
“…life is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel...” Whether this story strikes you as tragic or darkly comedic depends on how you tilt your head and squint. Certainly it’s brilliant. I wish the entirety of the drama Six Parts Water, selections of which make up those aforementioned chapter headings, would get published. But like Kipling’s Gow’s Watch, all we get are glorious fragments.
One helpful aspect of these omnibus publications is both an order of publication and an order of events chronology, allowing readers to choose their orientation. I read them as they were originally published, and I tend to re-read them in that order, but it is nice to see how the pieces fit together on a timeline.
Best regards to Steven Brust, long may he write. ~~ Chris R. Paige