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WesternSFA
Sethra Lavode
by Steven Brust
with an Afterward by John M. Ford
Tor, $15.99, 351pp
Release Date: January 28, 2014
In the previous installments of this series, four young nobles, some of them the sons and daughters of characters who figured prominently in previous adventures, have adventures of their own, become highwaymen and discover the long lost heir of the Empire. But in the absence of a Phoenix Heir, reborn or otherwise, many denizens of the Empire have decided, reasonably enough when you think about it, that it is time for the Dragon Heir to take over and establish the Empire anew after the destruction of Adron’s Disaster. So now those who support the Phoenix, including Piro, the young Viscount of Adrilankha, and Sethra Lavode, the Enchantress of Dzur Mountain, must prepare themselves for a war against a very well-prepared and equipped alliance of battle-honed Dragonlords and their allies. Given the youth and inexperience of the Phoenix Heir, it’s a good thing Sethra Lavode has more military experience in her little finger than the entire House of the Dragon combined, and absolutely no political ambition whatsoever.

Sethra Lavode, the conclusion of The Viscount of Adrilankha trilogy, is a hugely important piece of the Dragaeran cycle, even if a certain Easterner does not appear (because he isn’t born yet) and is only alluded to in passing in one of the historian-narrator’s snider moments. You do not have to have read any of the Vlad Taltos series, but please have read at least The Paths of the Dead and The Lord of Castle Black; better yet, start with The Phoenix Guards and Five Hundred Years After so you know just how Adron’s Disaster came about, and why certain survivors are so murderously focused on other characters. To paraphrase Stefan from Saturday Night Live, “This book has it all: battles, gods, powerful artifacts, an angry dude pissing on a statue, sons and daughters whose parents don’t understand why they wish to defy tradition, magic that suddenly ceases to work, vengeful villainesses, heroic sacrifices, doomed love, love triumphant – but not for the doomed lovers – a significant pen, and that thing where you are on the edge of your seat with anxiety for the characters and the author switches scenes on you so you want to scream at him, and then makes it all worthwhile.

More specifically, you find out why Morrolan has that reputation for butchering Easterners that has Vlad so riled up the first time they meet; you get to see the Great Weapon Blackwand in action from Morrolan’s perspective; you find out just how he got that nifty-but-weird set of windows that lead to other worlds; The Sorceress in Green and Sethra the Younger play important roles and earn enough good karma points to explain why Sethra and the Empress do not squash them like bugs for the stuff they pull later; and the Empire turns a historical corner with regard to inter-racial marriages, insofar as Great Houses are racial. Additional moments of various delights include a deliciously and deliberately mangled metaphor on page 64, a HUGE argument over which horse will have the honor of bearing Morrolan, and observations like the following: “… In other words, as is so often the case with immensely powerful individuals weighted down by the sense of their own responsibility, they did nothing but confer until the time for action was well past.” (p 269).

Reminder/Explanation: in case readers are wondering about the dialogue in these books, Brust is emulating the writer Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers and Twenty Years After, who was paid by the paragraph and evolved a singular style to maximize his income. It’s a transcendental joke.

Steven Brust is a master magician when it comes to storytelling, and it is no accident that these books are written about (and for) Dragaerans who can live 3000 years or more and want expansive divertments; while the Vlad Taltos stories are laconic, as their narrator’s life is expected to be brief, even if he manages to frustrate the many Dragaerans who want him dead. But seeing as how one of Vlad’s oldest friends is none other than Sethra Lavode, he has some expert help when it comes to serving up frustration. (I only hope one of the forthcoming books in the Taltos series follows up on the business of just which souls are currently sporting unfashionable House colors. I guess that would be a subject best suited for a book titled Hawk, but I may have to wait even longer.)

As for the Afterward by the late and lamented John M. Ford, it is a tour de force of mock literary scholasticism composed by a master gamesman, the sort of gift a genius writes for another. Yeah, this is how giants play. ~~ Chris R. Paige

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