Newcomers will not be hard pressed to find their footing in this new installment of the popular Vlad Taltos saga (first hardcover in the series: Dragon, 1998) as Brust paddles in place orienting them and waits for his first big hook to arrive. Invisible Assassin and wisecracking hood Vlad, when not running something illegal for himself, works for House Jhereg, one of the 17 Great Houses of the Empire of Dragaera, a land ruled largely by semi-immortal “elfs.” In the forest between Appertown and Ridge, Vlad awakes in a paranoid state and instant telepathic contact with his companion and familiar, Loiosh, a very small dragonlike jhereg, and Loiosh’s mate, Rocza, the wild jhereg often on Vlad’s other shoulder. Vlad’s jheregs’ smart chatter echoes that of Fritz Leiber’s Gray Mauser, while sometime criminal Vlad’s lowbrow tough-talk recalls that of Tony Soprano (without the obscenities). Lady Teldra, the High Priestess of Lord Morrolan, has arrived with urgent need of Vlad’s services. She’s an Issola, a nonhuman creature so graceful, elegant, and well mannered that Vlad feels plain and clumsy by contrast. Lady Teldra leads Vlad to Castle Black, the floating home of ten-foot-tall Lord Morrolan, whose friends (also close to Vlad) have been kidnapped. Then the Issola teleports our hero to the Halls of Verra, the capricious Demon Goddess, whose skills and abilities surpass any human’s. To rescue his friends, Vlad believes he has to destroy Verra, but instead the Goddess lays out a plan he must follow to threaten the Jenoine, who hold the prisoners. All turns on a gambit made by Sethra, the Dark Lady of Dzur Mountain. And on Lady Teldra, who is not what she seems.
Vlad’s relentless wryness amuses steadily and gives this fantasy the lift it needs.