Verra, Vlad's patron goddess, hires him to assassinate a king whose country lies outside the Dragaeran Empire, resulting in increased tension between the two places. Meanwhile, the peasant Teckla and the human Easterners persevere in their fight for civil rights. As Vlad's wife Cawti is a firm partisan of the movement, and Vlad is not, their marriage continues to suffer, causing Vlad to make some decisions that will change his life forever.
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Initially, Phoenix was to be the point at which Steven Brust would go on hiatus from the Vlad Taltos character; that didn't happen, but the finalized tone for many plot points in the series thus far still shines through.
One of the stronger entries in the Vlad Taltos series to this point, Phoenix provides a good endpoint to the front end of Vlad's ideals, beliefs and relationship with House Jhereg, while setting up for a promising, soul searching future for the series.
Vlad is just as devilishly charming and smart mouthed as we've come to expect in the series, but we also see a very welcome time of self doubt and a fair amount of instances of seeing a softer side to the character; particularly when dealing with Cawti, his wife, or Noish-Pa.
Noish-Pa also shines through rather surprisingly in this entry, getting a fair amount of character development compared to his earlier involvement in the series. Cawti and her band of revolutionaries, meanwhile, takes somewhat of a backseat compared to their part in Teckla.
The involvement of the gods in this universe also gets some light shed onto it, showing us just how involved a god is willing to get in the lives of mortals.
The writing for Phoenix is as strong as it usually is, while providing a plot more balanced between action and emotion than did the emotionally dark Teckla; Vlad having come more to grips with the status of his relationship with Cawti. Bernard Setaro Clark continues to deliver his fantastic performance and characterizations.
This entry is at least on par with Jhereg, which I feel has been the strongest entry in the series so far. Those looking for something new from Vlad Taltos will enjoy this transition to the next part of his life.
Phoenix, the fifth novel in Steven Brust’s VLAD TALTOS series, is a turning point in Vlad’s story. By the end of this book, his life will have changed drastically. The story begins as Vlad is stuck in a situation that he might not be able to get out of alive. In desperation, he calls on Verra, his patron goddess, for help. She saves him (or so it appears), and in return she demands that he sail to the island kingdom of Greenaere and assassinate its king. Vlad can’t refuse, and so he goes. This sets off a series of events that eventually lead to a Teckla revolution in Adrilankha. During all the turmoil, both Vlad and his wife Cawti, a member of a rebel group, are captured and rescued more than once, and both have reason to believe they don’t have much longer to live. The usual crew is there to help, though, including Kragar (Vlad’s assistant), Loiosh and Rocza (his jhereg familiars), and Morrollan and Aliera (powerful Dragonlords). There are new faces, too, including a spacey drummer from Greenaere. In the end, Vlad pisses off all the wrong people…
The plot of Phoenix is fast moving and fairly exciting, though I didn’t think it always made perfect sense (such as how easy it was to get close to the king — twice —on that island). Adrilankha is a city on the brink of war and Vlad is highly engaged because not only does he suspect that his actions may have caused the conflict, but his wife is a key member of a group that’s fomenting revolution. Vlad realizes that if she’s arrested and executed as a traitor, it might be his fault. The couple was already having marital problems due to Cawti’s growing dislike for Dragaeran society and Vlad’s role in it. The events in this story may push them apart forever. These events also make Vlad step back and take a look at his life. Is this really who he wants to be? A Jhereg crime boss, an assassin, and the lackey of a demon goddess? We see him questioning everything he stands for. Vlad tends to be flippant and snarky, which makes him fun to listen to, but this inner turmoil gives him more depth.
All of the political mayhem gives Brust a chance to give us a little more information about how his world works (I admit that I’m still shaky on this and not sure that it all fits together very snugly). We learn more of its political history and how its caste society functions. We also learn, along with Vlad, a little more about how the magic works after Vlad makes some discoveries on the island he visits. (Until now, Vlad has known almost nothing about the world outside his own country.) Lastly, there are some revelations about a couple of Vlad’s acquaintances. Two of them are related in a surprising way.
So, at the end of Phoenix, things are different. Will this be good or bad for Vlad? Will this be good or bad for the series? I guess we’ll see…
Audible Studios’ version of Phoenix is 8 hours long and narrated by Bernard Setaro Clark. He’s got Vlad’s cocky voice down perfectly. I love these audio versions of VLAD TALTOS.