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BOOK REVIEW: Hawk by Steven Brust

REVIEW SUMMARY: Feeling like a who’s-who of Vlad’s friends in Adrilankha, Hawk balances fatalism with hope, and never misses a beat with the humor and rapid fire dialog for which Brust is known. Long time fans of the series will appreciate seeing their favorite supporting characters.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Done with running from the Jhereg, Vlad returns to Adrilankha. But this time, he has a plan to get the Jhereg off his back for good.

PROS: A surprisingly great starting place for readers new to this series; perfect pacing; spotlights Brust’s famous dry wit.
CONS: The trendy-sounding slang may sound dated after a few years.
BOTTOM LINE: Brust succeeds wildly in playing the long game, and in making this “nearly the end of a series” book completely accessible to brand new readers. Fans of the series will appreciate that Hawk moves the chronological plot line forward.

This is Brust’s 14th Vlad Taltos book, a series that stars its titular character and takes place in and around the Dragaeran empire. Each of the seventeen Dragaeran Great Houses are named after an indigenous species, and members of that House are rumored to share the qualities and mannerisms of that animal. Vlad, an Easterner (that means he’s a human), obviously wasn’t born into a Dragearan house, so his father did the only thing one could do it that situation: he purchased a title in the house of Jhereg. Lord Vladimir Taltos, Count Szurke, sometimes-friend of the Empress, broke the rules and has been running from the House of the Jhereg ever since. It’s an issue, because the Jhereg don’t just want him dead, they want him soul dead, the type of assassination that can only be done with a rare Morganti weapon. Oh, didn’t I mention? The House of Jhereg runs all the organized crime in the empire.

It’s been eight years, and Vlad is sick of running. He’s sick of not being able to see his son, and he’s sick of constantly looking over his shoulder. With the help of his jhereg familiar Loiosh, a few old friends, and a few old witchcraft tricks, Vlad is going to face his completely rational fear of Morganti weapons and erase the price on his head. Doesn’t hurt that he’s in possession of a Great Weapon, and that she’s thinking about waking up (in an awesomely Arioch way). Facing that fear and trusting his old tricks might get kind of tough, as shortly after the book opens, Vlad is mortally wounded by a very lucky assassin.

The books in this series are all titled after a different house, with the plots of the book often circling around a member of that house, and with that house’s description on very subtle display. For example, one of my recently read favorites in the series is Issola, whose house description is “Courtliness and Surprise”, and the novel is a deconstructed comedy of manners (minus the comedy) with a killer surprise at the end. The one published before Hawk was Tiassa, whose house description is “Catalyst and Inspiration”, which both play a huge part in that story. The description for the House of the Hawk is “Observation and Perception”. A point I’m making here is that Brust is pulling off something incredibly ambitious and succeeding wildly. He designed these houses and their descriptions years ago. These characters and plot lines follow a very strict set of rules, as does the sorcery and magic in the books. Brust doesn’t break his rules, and he doesn’t paint himself into corners. Talk about playing the long game.

Ah, but we’ve left Vlad dying in an alley, haven’t we? Luckily, this is Dragaera, and magic works here. Otherwise it would have been a very quick novel. In somewhat short order, he mostly recovers, tracks down a very unusual friend, and puts a plan in action. A plan that boils down to: How do you make a Jhereg think like an Orca and see things like a Hawk?

To pull this off, Vald is going to a few things, including a rusty anchor, an egg, a non-magical ring, a musical instrument, a specially tailored cloak, and a very well-timed appointment. To get those things, he’ll have to connect with all his old friends, including Daymar, Kiera, Kragar, Lord Morrolan, Sethra Lavode, even that oily lawyer Perisil. Terion even makes a short appearance, and Savn is referenced. Hawk is almost a who’s-who of everyone Vlad has had important interactions with over the years, and nearly everyone he runs into wants to help him. Not only is the story paced absolutely perfectly, in every chapter I got to spend some time with beloved characters who I hadn’t seen in a long time.

Even though Vlad spends most of the book saying “hello” to people, the entire novel has an undeniable underlying fatalism, an inescapable feeling that he’s really returned to Adrilankha to say “goodbye”. Vlad isn’t stupid. He knows there’s a chance he’s not going to make it to the end of the book. A really good chance.

Fatalism aside, Hawk allows me to say something I haven’t been able to say about this series in ages: For readers brand new to the Vlad Taltos series, this is an excellent place to jump right in and get a feel for Brust’s wry writing style, the way he does world building and characterization, and everyone’s favorite sarcastic semi-retired assassin, Vlad Taltos. These books aren’t always written in chronological order, and Hawk does move the story forward just a bit, without really spoiling the larger over arching plot line. Well, it does a teensy bit, but new readers won’t know what to look for, so they won’t realize something has been spoiled! Yes, there are a lot of characters to keep track of, and lots of background information to absorb. But, if something is important to this particular story, Vlad explains it. If it’s there, but isn’t important, he tells you not to worry about it. Trust me, it works. You really can start here.

Like all the Vlad books, Hawk is told in first person point of view. Vlad is always talking directly to the reader, and even takes a few opportunities to break the fourth wall. On at least one occasion he hints that it’s not the reader he’s actually talking to, which is interesting. Brust takes the “talking directly to the reader” a few steps further than your typical author by making it feel like a conversation rather than an internal monologue. If Vlad doesn’t trust you enough to tell you something, he’ll straight up tell you that what you’re asking him is private and he’s not going to tell, or he’ll use a double entendre, or a joke, or some slang term in an attempt to diplomatically avoid the question. There is more than the usual amount of contemporary slang in this one, and while I personally found the trendy terms to be hilarious (yes, there was snortlaughing. Lots of it), I worry it could become dated as the years pass.

Everything that happens in Hawk leads to the question of what’s next? Brust is currently working on the next book in the series, Vallista. The description of house Vallista is “Creation and Destruction”. That’s appropriate indeed, when you think about the note Hawk ends on.

About Andrea Johnson (99 Articles)
Andrea Johnson also blogs over at where she reviews science fiction and fantasy novels and talks about other nerdy stuff. She's also an interviewer at Apex Magazine. Her apartment looks like a library exploded, and that is how it should be.

6 Comments on BOOK REVIEW: Hawk by Steven Brust

  1. Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin) // November 18, 2014 at 2:57 pm //

    A new entry point? Mmmm. I’ll have to read and see if I agree with you, there, Andrea. 🙂

  2. I read the first three, and decided to let go of the series. I guess I just got tired of the characters, setting, conflicts. Nothing can please everyone, I guess, but I think I gave it a fair try.

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