Dragons, gods, demons, vampires, undead necromancers, telepathic shoulder lizards, and an ex-assassin. This book has a lot going for it.
Issola, by Steven Brust, is part of the Vlad Taltos series which began in 1983. For those who are unfamiliar with the series, Lord Vlad Taltos is a witty ex-assassin with curmudgeonly tendencies and the ability to control magic. Being a witch helps. So does having a pair of telepathic jhereg (basically small dragons) as friends.
There are currently 15 Vlad Taltos books spanning a variety of points of view from Vlad to Rocza the jhereg. The ninth book in the series, Issola is written entirely from Vlad’s point of view. And Vlad’s a pretty funny guy. The book does reference characters and situations earlier in the series, which may be confusing to new readers. But don’t feel like you need to start the series at the very beginning.
One of the questions I’m most often asked is: “In what order would you recommend reading these books?” Unfortunately, I’m just exactly the wrong guy to ask. I made every effort to write them so that they could be read in any order. I am aware that, in some measure at least, I have failed (I certainly wouldn’t recommend starting with Teckla, for example), but the fact that I was trying makes me incapable of giving an answer.
Many people whose opinion I respect believe publication order is best . . . The choice, I daresay, is yours. In any case, I hope you enjoy them.
–Steven Brust, 1999, in the notes for The Book of Jhereg
If you’re looking for a fast-paced, action-packed-from-cover-to-cover plot, this is not the book for you. But if you enjoy witty banter, magical and transdimensional exploration, and a good, old-fashioned rock ’em sock ’em with demons and dragons, you’re in the right place. Issola dives deeply into the mythology of Dragaera, pitting the ancient forces of creation and destruction (magic and chaos) against each other. It’s a fantastic read for a lazy afternoon.
Spoiler Free, Guaranteed
When the book opens, Vlad and his jhereg companions are living in the woods in an attempt to hide from the Jhereg (as in House of Jhereg and the Jhereg Council, which has little to do with jhereg, the really cool shoulder lizards). Presumably, Vlad did something in earlier books to get on the Jhereg’s bad side, but no details are given in this book.
Despite his precautions to guard himself magically and psychically (courtesy of the Phoenix Stone he wears around his neck), Lady Teldra locates his hiding place. The good news is Teldra isn’t a Jhereg. In fact, she’s an Issola and servant to the Dragonlord Morrolan.
Okay, so maybe Vlad isn’t super fond of Morrolan or his cousin, Aliera, but at least the Dragonlords aren’t actively trying to kill him. The bad news is nobody’s heard from either of the aforementioned Dragonlords for days, which is saying something because they’re psychic.
Lady Teldra teleports Vlad to Dzur Mountain to meet with Sethra Lavode. Sethra is a vampire. I’m going to repeat that. Sethra Lavode is a vampire. But she’s also an old acquaintance, so Vlad is much more worried about obtaining a cup of good klava (a coffee-like drink) than he is about becoming supper.
During their klava break, Sethra reveals her suspicion that the two Dragonlords have been taken by the Jenoine, entities with godlike power who were around during the creation of the world. Little is known about the Jenoine’s plans and motivations outside of their hatred of the gods. Not particularly a religious or reverent man, Vlad can certainly understand the sentiment, especially whenever he interacts with Aliera’s mother, the Demon Goddess Verra.
Still, he can’t stand by and allow the Jenoine to kidnap his acquaintances willy-nilly. Against his better judgment, he accepts Sethra’s request to rescue the captured Dragonlords.
Oh well, what’s a little cosmic battle with beings who control time and space? It’s better than hunkering down in the woods without even so much as a drinkable cup of klava.
–Vlad Taltos (Steven Brust) Source: Issola book blurb
Content Warning Note: This book was written long before content warnings came into use, and there is a lot of systematic crud many of us have internalized and are working through. That being said, if you are sensitive to ableist words and phrases, you may want to give this one a pass.
More by Steven Brust
Hope you enjoyed this post! I’ll try to squeeze in a book review every Wednesday from now on. Until next time, I’m…
Wishing you the best,
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