- Mass Market Paperback: 239 pages
- Publisher: Ace (March 15, 1987)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0441385540
- ISBN-13: 978-0441385546
- Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.7 x 6.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 42 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #262,191 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Jhereg Mass Market Paperback – March 25, 1987
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Sounds great (and it wasn't bad as I said), but I find Brust's style lacking in some of the elements I enjoy most. So far I've read two Brust novels (this one and To Reign in Hell) and I find that he puts all his energies into two things - an elaborate plot resolution and, most importantly, snappy dialogue repartee; LOTS of snappy repartee. I found myself begging for a description of almost anything - his wife, his assistant, his office, his apartment, Castle Black - anything. Most of his descriptions are reserved for his knives and daggers. He also creates some very intriguing characters, but leaves them largely with little descriptive meat on their bones. So, while I'll probably read more novels in this series, I'm in no rush to do so.
Overall, I enjoyed Jhereg, but I had real trouble getting into it. For one thing, I wasn’t expecting the sort of story I got. The cover and blurb make it out to be what I think of as “boy finds dragon book.” In fact, the dragon (well, dragon like creature), Loiosh, plays a relatively small role in the story, and I didn’t care for his voice. Chirpy side-kicks who refer to the main character as “boss” tend to get on my nerves.
However, my main problem was adjusting to the world itself. The book drops the reader into a completely different setting with little to no information. Early on, I figured out that there were two species: humans (referred to as Easterners) and Dragaerans, but I knew little else until after the first half of the book.
The biggest difficulty I had was picturing the Dragaerans and understanding the house system. From the beginning, the only physical description of the Dragaerans is “tall,” which doesn’t tell me how much they differ from humans. It doesn’t give a complete reference to how they compare to humans til after page hundred. They’re basically elves – tall, no facial hair, pointed ears, long lived, otherwise look like humans.
Pretty much all the other animals are fictional species as well, and descriptions of them are usually not given. In addition, characters are described in connection to the fictional animals. E.g. “She moved as gracefully as a dzur” or “her eyes were as soft as an iorich’s wing.” Labeled illustrations of all the animal life and characters or a guide at the beginning would have helped a lot. About midway through, I posted some questions about the animals on my reading journal in the Green Dragon on LibraryThing and was directed towards this immensely helpful guide which outlines what each animal is and what is associated with them. If you plan on reading Jhereg, I highly recommend taking a look at the guide.
Then there was the house system itself. By page hundred, I had an inkling that houses were connected to professions, but I still didn’t really understand the system. Again, I probably wouldn’t have figured it out if it hadn’t been explained to be by someone familiar with the series (of which this is the first book…).
As it turns out, all Dragaerans are titled nobility who belong to one of the twelve houses, which are all named after the animals found in the guide above. Different houses have different associations. The Jhereg are criminals who run gambling rings and brothels. The Dragons are soldiers and place a huge emphasis on honor. The Teckla are peasants and lowly regarded by the majority of characters. A cycle exists whereby each house has control of the empire for a certain period of time before conceding it to another, and the house in charge controls the source of the Dragaeran’s magic.
It’s obvious that Steven Brust took a lot of thought and care into building this world. From the fauna to the history, the details are astounding, but they can also be confusing and are not well explained. However, I’d guess that all sequential books will be easier reading since I’ve already adjusted to the world.
I didn’t feel any great connections to the characters, but they were passable. Going in, I was worried about the depictions of female characters – fantasy books of the early 80’s don’t have so great of a track record – but I had no reason to be worried. The gender divide of the book is roughly equal, and female characters play as important a role in the plot as male characters. When I read the author bio at the end, I realized that he’d named one of them after his daughter Aliera, which I find sweet.
I would only recommend this book to veterans of fantasy literature. The confusion of the first hundred pages was frustrating enough for me, and I’m familiar with strange fantasy names and settings. But if you can make it through the confusing beginning, the story proves worth it.
The central plot of this book is that Vlad must find a way to kill a man who has stolen from the House of Jhereg, without betraying his employer's oath that the man will not be harmed (while in his house). Forces conspire to raise the stakes at every turn, and Vlad learns much about the world he lives in and his own history along the way.
I came upon this series through the high recommendations of a friend, and had been told such good things about it that I probably was over-estimating how much I would enjoy it when I began reading. The story is written in a witty, sometimes curt first-person, and while I enjoyed the banter, at times I just wanted the story. For that reason, and the inexplicably large cast of characters that Vlad meets with in the first third of the story, I had a hard time getting through the first hundred pages. I would begin to read, and grow impatient, or bored, and finally, I'd put the book down.
However, there is a point in the book, starting when Vlad finally begins to piece the whole mystery together, that the writing, the characters, and the conflict all click together, and drive through to the end with surprising and exceptionally well-written tension. Once I got to that point, it was near impossible to put it down, and I am greatly looking forward to continuing the series.
Had it not been for the cumbersome need to world-build in the beginning of the story (so that the later parts of the plot would make sense), I probably would have given this story five stars. As it stands, it's still a very good book, and I can heartily recommend it to people who like games like Skyrim or Assassin's Creed, or the idea of a cross-over between an evil Robin Hood and The Three Musketeers.
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