Tag Archives: good writing

I Swoon Over Steven Brust: Iorich

I came late to the party with Steven Brust. I only discovered his Vlad Taltos novels (and others) two years ago and have been playing catch-up ever since. That many of his Vlad Taltos novels are available in omnibus form makes it ever so much easier to collect his backlist.

My most recent acquisition is Iorich, in which Vlad must seek justice– but not too much of it.


Here’s what I’ll say about Vlad. He’s an assassin, an Easterner (human) living amongst the Dragaerans (elves), caught between being an Easterner and a noble in the house of Jhereg. It’s all very complicated and convoluted, but if you read the books, you’ll understand. In every novel he plays with a theme: family, love, revenge, war, even food. In Iorich, the running theme is justice, what it is, what it does, what it means and how it’s used for good or ill. And as usual, Vlad annoys a lot of people, helps others and tries to keep from being killed. Which, by the way, isn’t easy, since a whole lot of people want him dead.

It’s not only the stories that keep drawing me back into Brust’s fantasy world. Much has to do with the way he writes. He’s one of the few writers I read in which I finish the story and then go flipping back through the book in order to enjoy pages at random just for the sheer pleasures of the way he uses language. The Old Man gets that pained look on his face when he notices I’m reading Brust. Inevitably I’ll be demanding he mute the television so I can read something aloud.

Okay, random selection, this one about pain:

I stood up, and carefully–very carefully–went through what I remembered of the warm-up exercises my grandfather had taught me when I was learning swordplay. He’d told me they worked to loosen up tight muscles, and that no magic was involved. I couldn’t do everything–my rib objected loudly to a lot of the positions before I could even get into them; but what I did seemed to help. I took it slow, spending over an hour stretching¬† carefully and fielding comments from Loiosh about my new career as a dancer. I discussed his new career as a wall decoration, but he didn’t seem especially scared.

Another random passage. A conversation between friends who aren’t friends, but who would die for each other:

She glared. “Do you know why I don’t kill you right now?”

“Yes,” I said. “Because to do so, you’d have to stand up. Once entering the Iorich dungeons, you are cut off from the Orb, and so you can’t levitate, so I’d see how short you really are, and you couldn’t take the humiliation. Going to offer me something to drink?” Just so you know, it had been years since she’d done that levitating trick; I just said it to annoy her.

And this gem in which Vlad makes some observations:

There was a sergeant at a desk. I knew he was a sergeant because I recognized the marks on his uniform, and I knew it was a desk because it’s always a desk. There’s always someone at a desk, except when it’s a table that functions as a desk. You sit behind a desk, and everyone knows you’re supposed to be there, and that you’re doing something that involves your brain. It’s an odd, special kind of importance. I think everyone should get a desk; you can sit behind it when you feel like you don’t matter.

There are days when I feel a need for some inspiration, and I can always pull a Brust novel off the shelf, let it fall open and find something that seems to speak directly to me. There’s danger in that, though. It’s hard to read just a little without giving in to the urge to plop down and read it all.

Are there writers like that for you? Writers who seem to write in your language, saying exactly what you need to hear? For whom every note is exactly the right one and you understand what he or she is saying all the way to your bones?


Unexpected Thrills: The Detachment, Barry Eisler

I enjoy a good thriller. The¬† punchy prose, the non-stop action, the sheer joy of experiencing, “Okay, just one more page and then I’ll go to bed.” Barry Eisler is one of my favorite thriller writers. I love his character John Rain, international assassin. (I’ll save my thoughts on anti-heroes for another post) His books are fast and furious and scary as hell with insights into the true nature of evil, especially evil governments.

Then I found this sentence in The Detachment, his latest novel:

“I waited on a bench under the shade of some trees in the nearby Stadtpark, just a harmless-looking Japanese tourist taking in the sights and sounds and smells, savoring the sense of loneliness and freedom that comes only from solitary sojourns in strange lands, where all the everyday things seem subtly wondrous and different and new, where there’s no one to please or disappoint or explain to, where the traveler finds himself suspended between the beguilement of the comforts he left behind, and the allure of an imaginary future he senses but knows he can never really have.”

That’s one sentence, folks. 98 words. Ninety-eight words. Reader-me is delighted. Writer-me is awed. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to control that many words in one sentence?

Wow. No, I mean really. Wow.

That is a beautiful sentence. It’s a powerful passage. It’s almost a story all by itself. You wouldn’t think to find a gem like that in a thriller.

I enjoy thrillers. The majority are cheap thrills (pardon the pun). I enjoy them as I’m reading them, but by the next day I’ve forgotten them. Part of the problem is that too many thriller writers take their characters right out of central casting. They’re not bad characters, but they are stock characters and it makes them rather flat. Eisler made it onto my must-read, must-buy list because his stories do stick with me. There’s an emotional depth to his characters I don’t find all that often in the genre. Along with the fights and the chases and the scheming and ticking bombs, his stories contain touching scenes of loss and discovery, indecision and hard choices, friendship and uneasy alliances. All of Eisler’s characters have an ambiguity about them I find irresistible. I find myself worrying almost as much about the fate of the bad guys as I do about the good guys. Some of the good guys I really worry about because they dance so close to the edge of evil they are only one poor decision away from falling off.

In The Detachment, with that incredible sentence, Eisler attained a whole new level of writer-hood for me. There are quite a few writers I read just for the sheer pleasure of experiencing how they use language. They write gorgeous prose. I never expected to find it in a thriller.

Find it on Amazon here.

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