Friday, June 22, 2012

Dzur by Steven Brust

Vlad finds out that his wife (or ex), Cawti, is having problems in South Adrilankha. He gave her his Jhereg interests in the area when he left town, and left the rest of his business to his long time lieutenant, Kragar, but when she began to try to clean up the corruption in the area, she lost control of things, and now other Jhereg are trying to move in. The situation is complicated further by the death of the head of the Jhereg Council, so there is  a succession war in play.

So, Vlad returns to the city where anyone who recognizes him can earn a hefty reward for turning him over to the Jhereg, or an even heftier one by killing him, permanently. Vlad's only new advantage is the great weapon he acquired, which he has named Lady Teldra, and which has some interesting new abilities in protecting him from enchantments and other spells. He's also acquired a new ally, in the young Dzur, Telnan, sent to him by Sethra Lavode, as sort of an apprentice, I suppose.

The story is actually two tales, intertwined, and I'm not sure which one is more important. Brust has occasionally leavened his tales of Vlad with digressions on the subject of properly prepared meals and appropriate wines and brandies to accompany them, but he expands that in this novel to encompass a multi-course meal served to exquisite perfection at Vlad's favorite restaurant in Adrilankha, Valabar's. Every course is lovingly described, as the staff there caters to Vlad and Telnan, and the two of them converse on the nature of heroism, and cooking principles that probably apply to assassination and other important things in life.

An excerpt from the meal:
"Transitions are important in a good meal, whether the next flavor has only the most subtle differences from the previous, like between the fish and the goslingroot, where the butter and the lemon defined the flavor, or drastic differences, like between the salad and the chicken.
In this case, it was the wine that provided the continuity, and reminded my mouth that, however much things changed, and however one moment was completely unlike the one that preceded it, they were both still moments in an endless stream, the product of all that has gone before, and the producer of what will follow; the lingering chill of the wine, now partaking of the fullness of a red, now of the elegance of a white, making us step back a bit from the irresistible now of the chicken, and declaring an eternal context of life, or meal."

And so, Vlad jumps right into the middle of the brewing conflict in South Adrilankha, with little idea what's going on, and lacking the intelligence he used to have Kragar obtain for him. Somehow or other, he needs to come up with a viable plan to save Cawti's people from the Jhereg's exploitation. A familiar line, uttered by Vlad's familiar, Loiosh,  on the nature of Vlad's planning:

"How about the one where you stumble around until something happens, Boss? And then you almost get killed, and have to be rescued by...."

And Vlad finally finds out about something that Brust has been hinting at in sidelights for a couple of books now, Cawti bore him a son after he left town, whom he has never seen. A bittersweet ending on this one.

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