Round-up of older titles read recently (and one new one)

art by Ashley Cope

art by Ashley Cope

#1) Jhereg by Steven Brust

Somehow I’ve gone 25 years of genre without reading Steven Brust. I remember very distinctly  buying The Phoenix Guards at a middle-school book fair, but found it not to my tastes at the time. Jhereg, Brust’s first novel, is nothing like how I remember that first foray. Stripped to the bare essentials, Jhereg is the story of a young human assassin named Vlad Taltos surviving in a criminal underworld populated by dragonpersons. Hired by an underworld boss to hunt down another underworld boss, Vlad becomes deeply entangled in a complex plot to overthrow the status quo. Wisecracks, complex plans, and a little blade work are the legs on which his success rests.

Jhereg is quite similar to Daniel Polansky’s Low Town series with its morally bankrupt protagonist in possession of a code of ethics unique to his situation. Obviously Low Town is some thirty years late to the party. Where Polansky offers a more robust reading experience, Jhereg contains little description, relying almost exclusively on dialogue to carry the narrative. It makes for a page turning experience that makes an already short book feel like a fifteen minute cat nap and leaves an immediate desire for a hundred more sleeps just like it. Apparently I just compared Brust’s novel to sleeping which is an odd analogy. It’s not boring. Go read it.

#2) A Dance of Blades by David Dalglish

David Dalglish pretty much jumped the shark on generic fantasy titles. Unfortunately, his second book does the same for the actual book. Where Dance of Cloaks, the first installment in the series, told a predictable assassin fantasy tale with a narrative that flowed, Dance of Blades is equally predictable, but foists on the reader a disjointed and unsupported narrative. Also, I feel like Dalglish is constantly trying to reach for grimdark. He never gets there. What he gets instead is a hyper violent novel whose violence has no purpose, a result I find in direct opposition to the subgenre.


#3) Dorsai! by Gordon Dickson

Dorsai! is a bit of an odd experience in 2013. Originally titled The Genetic General before being repackaged in 1976, Dickson’s novel was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1960 and is often referred to as one of the seminal military science fiction texts. It’s even been referred to as the novel for military command as Starship Troopers is to the grunt. That last statement is probably the most ridiculous statement I’ve ever typed.

Donal Graeme is Dorsai, taller and harder than any ordinary man, but somewhat less impressive physically for one of his race. He is, however, a unique intellectual, someone who sees connections that others do not. The result is a wish fulfilled mental superman, not unlike an Ender Wiggin, who comes off more a sociopath than anything. Given the era it should come as no surprise that wooden dialogue and rampant misogyny pervade the narrative. What bothers me most about the novel though is the complete and utter disregard for character growth. In Starship Troopers the reader watches Rico become something. In Dorsai! the reader is told Donal is becoming something.

It’s my contention that Dorsai! would have little chance in today’s marketplace. Not only for its lack of social grace, but because its narrative type has gone the way of the dinosaurs.

#4) Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

trading_in_dangerSo. Good.

Ky Vatta is the only child of prestigious Vatta Transport Ltd. to buck tradition and choose a military career over the family business. When she’s kicked out of the military academy, her family ships her out of the media firestorm as captain of a Vatta ship scheduled for decommission. Along the way she sniffs out an opportunity to make some money, maybe enough to retrofit the defunct freighter, and goes off script. Equipment failure, a regional war, and some tricky mercantile maneuvers, make Ky’s first voyage something to remember.

Where most space operas are predicated around the protagonist playing the hero in a war zone, Trading in Danger is all about skirting traditional conflicts. Ky has no interest in the war, only in surviving it to make repairs to her ship and fulfill the terms of her contract. She’s a merchant captain with a job to do. Trade and profit. Read Trading in Danger and you’ll definitely do the latter. I loved this novel.

Justin Landon

Justin Landon is the Overlord of Staffer's Book Review. When he's not writing things of dubious value to the world, he's at the gym or being a dad. You can follow him on a multitude of social media, which is strongly suggested lest you miss out on vital information that could someday save your life.

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  • Paul Weimer (@princejvstin) January 21, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    Trading in Danger is the real deal.

    I am surprised you’ve managed to avoid Brust to this point. You’ll see, once you read it, how he’s influenced a lot of low fantasy that has come out.

    Also, some of the Jhereg novels work (and feel) very different than others. (I frankly don’t care for a couple of them).

  • Rob B January 21, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    I’m a fan of Brust’s Taltos novels, but I’m about 3 books behind. To Paul’s point, I felt quite a bit of resonance between those books and Lynch’s novels.

    Regarding Moon, I’ve only read her Paks novels and enjoyed those, but have been meaning to read the Ky books for some time. Your review might be the impetus for me to read, at least the first, sooner than later. All told, I’ve got about 7 books by Elizabeth Moon waiting to be plucked from my own unread pile (including the HERIS SERRANO 3-in-1 omnibus).

    Regarding this post as a whole, good to see you dipping back into some older stuff. Balancing older with HOT! NEW! RELEASES! isn’t always easy.

  • tam January 21, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    The Moon was probably helped by the Graphicaudio production…

  • neth January 21, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    Excellent – I’ll take this as official permission to skip the Dalglish novels. I too haven’t read Brust, though I think I’d probably enjoy them.

  • Nathan (@reviewbarn) January 21, 2014 at 9:54 pm

    Yes, I said I would read Moon this year several times and yet everyone insists on reminding me how much I have missed out on. I am getting there!

    Glad I stopped on the Dance of sharp objects series, wasn’t fond of the first and if it goes off the rails from there. Bleh.

  • Dustin January 22, 2014 at 10:44 am

    I tried the Dalglish series. Stopped after the first book because it felt like a crappier version of Weeks’ Night Angel Trilogy, and then *cue my shocked face* found an interview where he said “Obvious to probably anyone who has read my work, Brent Weeks had a massive influence on the Shadowdance Trilogy.”

    Don’t get me wrong, he’s a competent writer, but that’s where it ends. The book feels like a mash up of elements from other books, but without any of the flair and originality that propelled the source material. Will have to look into some of the other ones you mentioned after I deal with my already alarmingly growing “to-read” pile.

  • WHM January 22, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    The way the Taltos series progresses is brilliant. I think Brust’s effortless prose and sparkling wit deceive — he doesn’t pull back on the consequences of Vlad’s way of life. Taltos may start out as a mob assassin, but he ends up in a very different, darker but more real place (but without giving up the wisecracking).

    And: Trading in Danger sounds like exactly like my kind of space opera. Thanks for reviewing it.

  • Anton January 26, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    I enjoy reading reviews of older stuff, they remind me of books still sitting on TBR years after publication. I also managed to avoid Brust somehow, but your review plus a bunch of essays in Jo Walton’s new book make me want to pick the series up.

    I gave up on Dalglish too. Couldn’t get through the first book.

  • Thea January 27, 2014 at 11:08 pm

    Hooray for Trading in Danger – SO good. And the series gets better. (At least, the books I’ve read.)

  • WHM February 15, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    I read Trading in Danger. Thanks for bringing the book to my attention, Justin. I liked it. Specifically, I liked that the there was a complex mix of players and overlapping loyalties (much of it commerce based) involved rather than one bad guy. I also liked that Vatta’s privilege comes up in a complex way with varying reactions to who she is and what she represents. And that her youth rather than her gender was the major factor in how people treated her (although Moon also deals some with gender as well). And that not all of the mysteries were solved (although I assume that some of them will carry over to the next book).

    I was going to ask if I should keep going with the series, but now I see Thea’s comment and so I’m at the very least going to give the next book a try.

  • tam February 16, 2014 at 9:54 am

    I don’t know. In the end, Trading in Danger had a lot of mundane scenes, without any ‘jeopardy’. I guess it’s a nice change of pace. At least there weren’t any horses, one of Moon’s obsessions. My favorite Graphicaudio Elizabeth Moon is still ‘Once a Hero’ (Serrano series), with a nice FTL scene.

  • WHM February 16, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    I like the mundane when done well. I see the complaints about Ancillary Justice being boring, and I can’t quite fully relate to that reading experience.

  • Kama March 9, 2014 at 1:49 am

    “Trading in Danger is all about skirting traditional conflicts. Ky has no interest in the war”

    I think we read different book then.

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