The Book of Jhereg (Vlad Taltos, #1-3) by Steven Brust

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Jhereg: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Yendi: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Teckla: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: December 16, 2016 to April 30, 2017

Amazing books. Amazing journey. Very memorable characters. I love Vlad and this world of dragons and dragon people and their layered politics, and I can’t wait to get started on the second omnibus.

I have a thing about reading series in order, and it was with a lot of reluctance and much hand-wringing that I read this series out of chronological order. I had gotten almost the whole series in these omnibus editions that “organized” the books in publication order (i.e. definitely not chronological order), and figuring out where to start or jump in took up too much time. So I just started with the first book of the first omnibus, which was Jhereg, and soon found that the order was not that big a deal for this series, as many people have told me before.

The order in which you read doesn’t affect your enjoyment that much because each book could be read as a standalone–sort of, “technically.” I could explain further now that I’ve read the first three books, set in three different points of Vlad Taltos’ life and career, but the explanation is… gonna get complicated, more complicated.

Suffice it to say I really enjoyed all three books, maybe the third one a little less than the previous two, but that’s only because it contained too many real life implications that mirrored some of my own and reading about those things are never fun.

The writing is great, however, and I never felt it faltering once. This doesn’t mean much unless or until you take into account the series’ complete timeline and you see where each book falls (how years apart they are, how much happens in between). Only Then you would realize the depth and complexity of this world and how writing a series out of order like this is unbelievably difficult. Steven Brust did this all the while maintaining continuity and coherence AND not letting the overarching story line falter, not even once.

It’s amazing, and I’m nothing short of impressed.

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Some thoughts on my first read of Jhereg:

Satisfyingly good. The kind of good that makes you anxious to get to the next book. The kind of good that makes you glad there are over ten books in the series. The kind of good that makes me not care about book orders. Maybe it’s a good thing these books are written out of order?–is a thing I never thought I’d say. But I have a good feeling about Steven Brust and I trust he’ll deliver.

It’s been awhile since high fantasy has been this good for me, and it’s been even longer since I liked a POV main character in high fantasy enough to know that I’ll like whatever trials and tribulations he’s put through. And I like Vlad Taltos. Thus far, he’s already shown himself to be a multifaceted character full of nuance, and I can only imagine he’ll get more complex with each book.

Plus, there are dragons everywhere.

Full review to come when I get through the entire series.

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Trying to figure out the order of this series is giving me a serious case of involuntary twitching. So far from what I’ve gleaned on various forums and reviews, the publication order is completely different from the chronological order.

*more twitching*

But the order in which you read these books does not matter. At all. Because they were purposely written out of order.

*bangs head on desk*

Why.

(I have a thing for publication order)

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Publication order goes like this:
Jhereg
Yendi
Teckla
Taltos
Phoenix
Athyra
Orca
Dragon
Issola
Dzur
Jhegaala
Iorich
Tiassa
Hawk

But chronological order goes like this:
Taltos
Dragon
Yendi
Jhereg
Teckla
Phoenix
Jhegaala
Athyra
Orca
Issola
Dzur
Iorich
Tiassa
Hawk

The only book I have is Jhereg, so I’m gonna start there.

Throne of Jade (Temeraire, #2) by Naomi Novik

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: February 17 to 22, 2017
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

I have never audiobook’d a whole series before, but I might have to for this one because Simon Vance is simply amazing. He should read all the books that way I could enjoy them all, even the ones I probably wouldn’t like–pretty sure he could make me like ’em. So 5 stars for him and 4 stars for the book itself because, honestly, I don’t know how far I’d get or how much I’d enjoy if I’d read these books on my own.

The writing is very descriptive, with long passages about early-19th Century culture and society of both Britain and China, and then there are more long passages about politics and intrigue. The previous book was mostly about Napoleon and his continued efforts to take over the rest of Europe; this book expands on that some more, but now there’s also China thrown into the mix as both Britain and France fight for the Celestial Emperor’s favor.

In middle of all of that, you have Temeraire and Laurence and their unbreakable bond. Or, well, what we thought was unbreakable. It was revealed at the end of the first book that Temeraire is a Celestial, the most prized breed of Chinese dragons, and here we learn that Celestials are companions only to Emperors and crown princes. Laurence is most definitely not royalty–he’s barely nobility–and so the Chinese disapprove of his bond with Temeraire, and they would very much like their dragon back. The British aren’t willing to comply with the request, but they see it as an opportunity to gain an alliance with the Emperor–and to one-up the French–and so they ship Temeraire, Laurence, and the rest of their crew halfway around the world.

Peking and Macao of the early-19th Century are a sight to behold for the British envoy and a whole new world full of wonder, for Temeraire especially who’s eager to learn of his birth country and discover his roots. The lives of dragons of the East are fascinating to him, and the more he learns about them, the more he’s pulled away from Laurence. Laurence, too, is fascinated by the treatment of dragons in Peking, and not just of the Imperials and Celestials, but of the smaller and less important breeds too. He’s surprised that they all can live among people so peacefully, and thus comes to understand why Temeraire is so taken in by what he sees. At the end of this book, Temeraire and Laurence are still in China.

I’m most impressed by how Naomi Novik inserted dragons into actual history, and with just a little adjustment, she’s inserted dragons into the tides of Chinese politics that will forever change the landscape of China for centuries to come. Colonialism is on its way, gradually at first but it’s coming nonetheless. I can’t help feeling a sense of dread, knowing what’s coming in just a few years, but since this story is told from the British perspective, there’s a sense of accomplishment and celebration in the writing, especially near the end, when the British envoy have permanently established themselves in China to open up more trading opportunities.

It will be interesting to see how much Novik sticks to or deviates from history in later books. I looked ahead and see some hints of Temeraire and Laurence traveling the Silk Road, visiting the Ottoman Empire, and making a stop in Russia. Lots to look forward to, and I can’t wait.

Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: January 31 to February 13, 2017
Recommended by: buddy read with Beth

Recommended to:

3.5 stars, though not sure if I should round up for the subversive narrative and character-driven writing style because I feel like I should judge this book by the standards of the time period in which it was written–the 80s–and not judge it by what I normally like/prefer in high fantasy–books written much later in the 90s and beyond.

Even though it’s called Dragonsbane and the Dragonsbane is a knight named John Aversin, the whole story is told from the perspective of his mageborn partner, Jenny. It’s through her that we see and come to understand this Medieval Scotland inspired world, the magic within it, and the dragons. And it’s through her that we see the hardship of the mageborn and we see who holds the true power, in this story and in this world.

As for John, he’s not only a knight, but a country knight and a pig farmer too, which comes much to the surprise of Gareth the crown prince when he comes seeking the Dragonsbane to slay the dragon. John is not at all what he expected, and all the hopes and dreams he had of the Dragonsbane as a noble knight in shiny armor are shattered upon their first meeting. It’s quite funny. I laughed all the way through that first scene of them together, and afterward every time John speaks, there’s cause for snickering.

John and Jenny have been together for awhile; they have two sons and have slain a dragon together. All in all, they’ve been through a lot together, and there’s a sense of ease, strength, and security in their relationship, the kind that can withhold all kinds of storm together. You don’t often see this kind of lasting bond in genre fiction, and it’s yet another thing that sets it apart from other of its kind.

Although neither John nor Jenny is what we expect of a knight and mage, Gareth the crown prince is exactly what we expect of a sheltered, inexperienced, starry-eyed young prince. At least in the beginning of the story, he’s like that. After meeting John and Jenny, he comes face to face with the reality of his dragon problem and grows up quickly. And then he accompanies them on their quest to slay the dragon and grows up some more, so that by the end of the quest there isn’t that much of that starry-eyed young prince left in him, for which I was grateful because that guy was annoying, especially when looked at from Jenny’s perspective.

The only weak link in this story that I could find is the man-eater antagonist Zyerne. She’s a bit too muahahahaha for my taste. I prefer villains to be subtle and to withhold information instead of flaunting it. Unfortunately, Zyerne is definitely in the flaunt-it camp. There’s not much depth or complexity to her, and I wished there had been more, more layers or more sides or more personality. Something to give her more purpose than just being the force of darkness out to get our heroes.

I liked this book a lot more upon first finishing it than I do now. But now? Now that I’ve some time to process the story as a whole, my interest and enjoyment of it is waning. I think it’s the combination of the slow pace–it took over half the book for me to get into the story and characters–and Zyerne’s shallow characterization that kept me from being fully engaged. But since this is the first book of the series, I understand the necessity of the slow pace and gradual world building effort Barbara Hambly had put in to lay the groundwork for the rest of the series.

One of my favorite scene is Gareth meeting John for the first time and realizing he’s the Dragonsbane:

Still Gareth had not spoken. Aversin, interpreting his silence and the look on his face with his usual fiendish accuracy, said, “I’d show you my dragon-slaying scars to prove it, but they’re placed where I can’t exhibit ’em in public.”

It said worlds for Gareth’s courtly breeding–and, Jenny supposed, the peculiar stoicism of courtiers–that, even laboring under the shock of his life and the pain of a wounded arm, he swept into a very creditable salaam of greeting. When he straightened up again, he adjusted the set of his cloak with a kind of sorry hauteur, pushed his bent spectacles a little more firmly up onto the bridge of his nose, and said in a voice that was shake but oddly determined, “My lord Dragonsbane, I have ridden here on errantry from the south, with a message for you from the King, Uriens of Belmarie.” He seemed to gather strength from these words, settling into the heraldic sonority of his ballad-snatch of golden swords and bright plumes in spite of the smell of the pigsty and the thin, cold rain that had begun to patter down.

“My lord Aversin, I have been sent to bring you south. A dragon has come and laid waste the city of the gnomes in the Deep of Ylferdun; it lairs there now, fifteen miles from the King’s city of Bel. The Kind begs that you come to slay it ere the whole countryside is destroyed.”

The boy drew himself up, having delivered himself of his quest, a look of noble martyred serenity on his face, very like, Jenny thought, someone out a ballad himself. Then, like all good messengers in ballads, he collapsed and slid to the soupy mud and cowpies in a dead faint.

His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire, #1) by Naomi Novik

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: January 15 to 23, 2017
Recommended by: book club’s pick
Recommended to:

Simon Vance to the rescue once again as he saves another book for me that I would have set aside for another time or probably indefinitely. Not the book’s fault though since it’s perfectly fine and well written for a historical fiction. It was more a case of bad timing when I picked it up, too much going on and not enough time or energy to spare and all that, but I made it through, with a lot of help from the audiobook which was superbly read by Mr. Vance, and I really enjoyed it.

The story reimagines the Napoleonic War years from the perspective of Will Laurence, an English captain, formerly of the navy, currently of the air force, and the dragon Temeraire which he took from a captured French ship. The pair bonded over a short period of time and grew to become a funny, sweet, interesting partnership by the end of the book. Some of my favorite moments consist of Laurence and Temeraire talking about books, battle tactics and strategies. There’s no magic or magic systems, no mysterious relics or quests, no coming of age farm boy set out to save the world since this isn’t high fantasy; dragons are the only fantastical elements here.

And the dragons in this world are intelligent and can communicate with their handlers and crew, and their interactions are really fun to read, or more accurately, really fun to hear Simon Vance read because he’s got a lovely voice and he has different voices for all of the characters, but the dragons’ voices are by far the best. The historical aspects of the story are well done and really immerse you in the time period, save for the part where there were dragons involved and both England and France used them like fighter jets, intelligent fighter jets with personalities and quirks. But this too, inserting dragons into this part of history, was also well done and really added to the overall historical feel of the story.

The reason I switched to audio was because of the slow beginning. Not much happened following the capture of the French ship as Laurence and his crew waited for Temeraire to hatch, and not much happened afterward when they left the navy to join the air force. While Temeraire was interesting, Laurence was not, unfortunately. Although a captain and in his thirties, he still had a lot of growing up to do and a lot of personal obstacles to overcome, and he didn’t become interesting until he fully gave in to the life and culture of the air force and dedicated himself to Temeraire (and dragons in general). By this point, more than half the book was over, and without Mr. Vance’s reading, I most definitely wouldn’t have made it this far or past all of Laurence’s shortcomings to really get into the story.

I’ve only read one other book by Naomi Novik and that’s Uprooted which was mostly okay, so I went into this book expecting it to also be mostly okay, but found myself enjoying it a lot, especially once more characters and dragons were introduced. They’re all a lot of fun except for Rankin whom I’d like to stab–repeatedly, but that’s another matter, unfinished business, saved for another time. Since there are 8 more books of dragon adventures, I look forward to continuing this journey with them.

“How did you come to see it?” [Laurence] said with interest, turning it over in his hands and brushing away more of the dirt.

“A little of it was out of the group and it was shining,” Temeraire said. “Is that gold? I like the look of it.”

“No, it is just pyrite, but it is very pretty, is it not? I suppose you are one of those hoarding creatures,” Laurence said, looking affectionately up at Temeraire; many dragons had an inborn fascination with jewels or precious metals. “I am afraid I am not rich enough a partner for you; I will not be able to give you a heap of gold to sleep on.”

“I should rather have you than a heap of gold, even if it were very comfortable to sleep on,” Temeraire said. “I do not mind the deck.”

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