So Steven Brust’s Vallista is the latest Vlad Taltos novel, a series which I have now been reading for substantially longer than this booklog’s existed, which is increasingly saying something. (Like, I re-read the first one 15 years ago, and thought then that it had been a good while since I read it initially.)
For a long time, this was one of my favorite series, and if you go back and look at the write-ups of each book in the series, you’ll see that come through. But lately, I’ve been getting disenchanted with puzzlebox fiction that sets up a big mystery and teases out reveals over time, because it’s hard not to notice that the ending rarely lives up to all the build-up. And surely that’s going to be doubly true for a series that I’ve been reading my entire adult life; hell, I’m not sure that Brust even has a big master plan that’ll make sense of all the obscure hints he’s been dropping for decades. (He is, after all, a huge admirer of Roger “make-it-up-as-you-go” Zelazny.)
So I didn’t read this right when it came out, and I went into it with medium-low expectations, figuring that it was going to be a by-the-numbers installment of a series that I used to love, but was now reading out of a sense of inertia and completionism.
The thing is, I was completely and delightfully wrong. What I keep forgetting is how much fun these novels can be. I laughed at the witty writing and kept wanting to share quotes from it. And while this is exactly the kind of puzzlebox that I normally hate—not only did it have some big, but slightly ambiguous, reveals about the overall series, the plot of this book is structured as a giant puzzle whose solution needs to be found—it somehow worked. I cared about the central mystery of the book, and I even cared about the larger series reveals. And it made me wonder if maybe Brust actually does have a plan, and the series won’t disappoint in the end.
It seems weird that I can be positively surprised by a series I’ve loved for decades, but I was anyway. Great stuff. If you haven’t read Brust, start in on Jhereg, and know that it stays good at least this far in.