Adrienne Martini Reviews Tsalmoth by Steven Brust

Tsalmoth, Steven Brust (Tor 978-0-76538-284-9, $27.99, 288pp, hc) April 2023.

Steven Brust’s Tsalmoth is the 16th book in his (allegedly) 19-book series. Each book focuses on one house on the great wheel of power in Dragaera, but each story within the series concerns Vlad Taltos, an assassin whose backstory is more complicated than it first appears.

Taltos is an Easterner in a world full of dragons, who aren’t really dragons like most fantasy writers envision dragons, but who are very tall and very long-lived humanoids. Here, dragons are the dominant species; Easterners have long been an underclass. Unless, of course, they rise in the ranks of the Jhereg, one of the few houses that will accept their kind. And Vlad is rising fast indeed.

The series itself is one where the publish­ing order doesn’t match the internal timeline order. With this book, Brust jumps back to Vlad’s earlier years. He and Cawti are about to have a wedding (and readers of the series know how the marriage turns out) and each chapter opens with a short explainer about what Eastern weddings look like. At the same time, Vlad finds himself out a significant sum of money. The task of getting it back should be an easy one. As you’d imagine, it isn’t.

As a house, the Tsalmoth are known for always finding different ways to do the same thing, which is at the heart of the mystery that Vlad untangles. It’s a theme Brust plays with in his chapter openers about different styles of wedding ceremonies. But it’s a quality that can be applied to the series, too. Brust keeps finding different ways to build Vlad’s story, with some landing more successfully than others but with all the ways always being interesting.

With Tsalmoth, Brust puts us back in first person in Vlad’s head, which assures us a snappy, snarky ride from a younger man who hasn’t yet been hit with too much loss. It’s great fun to hang out with this Vlad again, as well as with Sethra, Lord Morrolan, Kragar, and Loiosh. What’s even more fun is that Brust’s writing is even more assured here than it was when he too was a younger man. Tsalmoth is full of the same magic of Jhereg but with more depth and earned swagger.

Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.

This review and more like it in the February 2023 issue of Locus.

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