Capsule Review: Steven Brust, The Book of Taltos

I read The Book of Taltos during my fourth air trip to the US, some 9 months after buying the book with the intention of reading it during my first. It collects two short fantasy novels by Steven Brust, set on the planet Dragaera and featuring the human mobster Vlad T├íltos. I have one other collection of Brust novels, The Book of Athyra, on my to-read list, having got both books on the strength of the first collection, The Book of Jhereg. Maybe it’s the headache I had throughout the trip or maybe the very circumstance of reading a book on an airplane makes me less receptive, but I didn’t really like Taltos very much. (I’ve also soured on the comical novels of Christopher Moore after reading them on airplanes).

Brust is rare among fantasy writers in prominently featuring an openly Marxist/Trotskist political dimension to his writing. Unfortunately, in these two novels, the political bits (the sections describing how the theoretically absolute monarchy in which the stories are set is in fact constrained by economical and material factors, the sections describing a proletarian uprising) are about the only memorable bits. While the construction of the plot and setting is outstanding and one or two characters are interesting, there’s little that an experienced fantasy reader won’t have seen before and rather too much that they will have seen far too often already. On the other hand, the stories get better with recollection, and may benefit from re-reading, especially in more favorable circumstances. So I’m kind of on the fence as far as this book goes.