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The Lord of Castle Black
Book Two of The Viscount of Adrilankha
by Steven Brust
An Orb Book, $17.99, 397pp
Release Date: February 26, 2013
Perhaps it is in honor of Steven Brust that Tor Books named its subdivision Orb. After all, in Brust’s series, the Orb is the symbol, and most powerful Artifact, of the Dragaeran Empire. In The Paths of the Dead, the precursor to this story, the Orb was the object of a noble, heroic quest, at the end of which young Zerika became the new Empress.

Now if all politicians played nice and accepted the will of the gods, that would be that. But even the gods aren’t in perfect agreement that Zerika should have been allowed to retrieve the Orb, so why should noblemen concede, especially when they have been working so very hard to make themselves Emperor? Lord Kana has a legitimate-enough claim (kinda-sorta, if you squint and look sideways) to be the next true and proper ruler of Dragaera, and was halfway to his goal before she showed up. That’s a lot of momentum to either walk away from or ride; Kana resolves to oppose Zerika’s claim and make himself the de facto Emperor. Treason, or patriotism? Depends on who wins and gets to commission the history books, doesn’t it?

Zerika is cool, level-headed, and has strangely powerful allies in unusual places, including Sethra, the Enchantress of Dzur Mountain and the last of the Lavodes, the guardians of Dragaera since time out of mind. Sethra recruits a young dragonlord named Morrolan, who was raised in the East and thus has knowledge of his House of the Dragon heritage, which is perfect, because that means he has no expectations, prejudices, obligations, prior commitments or conflicting loyalties. What he does have is an affinity with one of the most powerful Great Weapons in the universe: Blackwand. Just the sort of artifact to put a major crimp in the plans of a scheming lord.

The Viscount of Adrilankha is a continuation of Brust’s The Phoenix Guards sequence, and as such is written in the heroic and humorous style of Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. That alone makes it wonderful reading, as the next generation of troublemakers ironically preserves the order and finds romance along the way.

These precursor series were originally viewed by some readers as essentially unrelated to the best-selling Vlad Taltos stories that occur further along in the timeline, but that is like looking at the tip of the Florida peninsula’s shoreline from a boat and assuming it does not connect to the mainland. As the most recent Taltos books make plain, many characters are finding their fates intertwining; so knowing the history, not just of Morrolan, Mario Greyblade, and Zerika, but of Khaavren, Pel, Piro, Ibronka, Tazendra, Grita, and others becomes more and more rewarding. Besides, these books are funny, and of how many series is that true nowadays?

The Orb paperbacks are designed for comfortable reading. With spring upon us and summer fast approaching, now is a great time to discover or reacquaint yourself with this series. ~~ Chris R. Paige

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