That saga of Vlad Taltos continues with Tsalmoth, the sixteenth book in the series. Tsalmoth is a tale set in Vlad’s early days. He’s still a minor boss and occasional assassin. There’s a touch of the original ‘cool’ factor and at the same time, Brust is layering in universe-building information which may, or may not, become important as we near what should be the culmination of the series. There are what, two left? Chreotha and Lyorn? It is good to be back in Vlad’s office with his henchmen, worried about collecting a debt and feuding with other underbosses. The snappy, sarcastic banter is as fun as it has always been. It may lack a certain depth of detail, as if Brust figures that if you’re reading this one he doesn’t need to provide more than surface level verisimilitude; that if you are fool enough to dive in at book sixteen any confusion is your own fault.
The book is weakened somewhat from an undercutting of Vlad as a competent hero. Perhaps it is to be excused by the narrative theme of Vlad’s infatuation; by his concern with his impending nuptials and his obsession with Cawti, his betrothed. Remember this is a flashback story. But I can’t help but feel that Vlad is undermined as a protagonist, continually outclassed by the superior skills of Cawti. He seems to be in much the same position as the stereotypical male portrayed in television commercials: befuddled, inept, and surpassed in all things by his better half. Brust has always been burdened with his…unfortunate political inclinations. I wonder if this book represents his attempt to fall into lockstep with the current crop of comrades, who are more concerned with the interpersonal than the Internationale. If so, Vlad suffers for it, losing a degree of that edge, that coolness that he exuded in the first few books. I don’t know. Maybe Brust isn’t surrendering a portion of testicular fortitude in an effort at appeasement. Perhaps I’m merely getting old. It isn’t the mid to late eighties anymore. I’m not in highschool. The truth could be that I’m just no longer so easily impressionable, that I expect too much.
But the immediately preceding paragraph is largely quibbling. The essential determinant of a book’s value is whether or not I enjoyed it. And, happily, I did. Once again Brust’s smart ass first person narration entertains, carrying the reader past slow points and masking the general triviality and lightweight nature of the plot. Tsalmoth may be a place holder, a book written because the Tsalmoth is one of the creatures in the Dragaeran cycle and so there must be a book with that title to complete the series. Appropriately circular reasoning. If you are a fan of the series you will want this one. It may be lesser Vlad Taltos, but it is still Vlad Taltos.
If, after reading Tslamoth you’ve had your fill of Vlad Taltos for a while, why not switch over to some Karl Thorson? The Semi-autos and Sorcery novels are here to cater to all our fantasy action/adventure needs.