Remember those episodes of Matlock in which someone is arrested for a crime, but during the investigation it turns out that the arrest was really just a front for a much larger intrigue? Steven Brust‘s newest VLAD TALTOS novel Iorich is sort of like that — except the person who is arrested is Aliera e’Kieron, and the larger intrigue involves Empress Zerika of the Dragaeran Empire. Oh, and Matlock’s role is played by Vlad Taltos, human assassin and bon-vivant, who is still on the run from the Jhereg but has returned to Adrilankha to help out his friend Aliera. (Disclaimer: I actually don’t know if there are episodes of Matlock like that, but it seems likely. Also, I realize I should probably have used a more current legal show like Law & Order, but I know even less about those. So there you have it: Vlad as Matlock. That must be a first.)
After the detour of the previous book in the series, Jhegaala, which was set earlier in the internal chronology, Iorich thankfully moves the story forward again. It takes places after the events of Dzur — and as such, it’s definitely not a book to pick up if you’re not familiar with the VLAD TALTOS series yet. (Instead, start with the omnibus The Book of Jhereg, which contains the 3 books that were published first. I definitely recommend reading the series in order of publication, at least until it’s completed.)
Another contrast with the previous book: Jhegaala didn’t feature many of the regular cast of VLAD TALTOS books, because it still dealt with Vlad traveling alone, on the run from the Jhereg. In Iorich, it’s almost as if Steven Brust decided to systematically throw in every single regular character to please the fans: early in the book, Vlad has a sit-down with Morrolan, Sethra, Aliera, Kiera, Zerika (!), Cawti, and later on his old employee Kragar even makes an appearance. It almost feels as if the author was checking names of a list — not that I’m complaining, because it’s lots of fun to see those characters in action again.
Fans of the VLAD TALTOS series will be aware that, in most of the books, Vlad takes on some of the characteristics of the noble house mentioned in the title, and Iorich is no exception. The Iorich attributes are “Justice and Retribution” (according to the handy new illustration of the Cycle, at the front of the book), and so we get to enjoy the delicious irony that career criminal Vlad Taltos is now working (more or less) inside the boundaries of the law to free his friend Aliera. Steven Brust also again uses the now-familiar device of chapter introductions that follow the theme of the novel — in this case, transcripts of court interviews and other legal documents. The transcript of Aliera’s questioning at the start of chapter 12 is an easy highlight of Iorich.
There really isn’t much to complain about in this solid new addition to one of my favorite fantasy series. I felt that, after the long set-up, the end was a bit rushed, but we can take that as an example of Vlad’s “plan carefully and then strike quickly” style. There also aren’t any really world-shaking revelations in this novel — it almost feels small-scale compared to some of the mind-bending earlier books.
Nit-picking aside, Iorich is a lovely addition to the VLAD TALTOS series. To long-time fans, this will be like a comfort read: set almost entirely in Adrilankha, with most of the major characters in top form, and Vlad doing his thing, talking with relish about his meals, wise-cracking back and forth with Loiosh — just like the old days, almost. In addition, we also get some beautiful and poignant scenes with Cawti, and on the flip side, the book has an appendix with some truly hilarious “deleted scenes” (even including a brief return of the dreaded KHAAVREN ROMANCES narrator Paarfi). We also get some fascinating looks at life inside the Imperial Palace and the Iorich wing (which is so labyrinthine that it’s hard not to interpret it as a symbol for the Kafka-esque intricacies of the law).
If you’re already a fan of the VLAD TALTOS series, you’ll have a blast with Iorich. And if you’re not familiar with the series yet, do yourself a favor and go find a copy of The Book of Jhereg right now. You won’t be disappointed.