I discovered the novels of Steven Brust about four or five years ago. The first I found was Dragon, and I found it in an op-shop. It looked interesting, had a great opening few pages (which I skimmed, of course; knowing, as every good reader knows, Not To Judge A Book By It’s Cover), and was about 10 cents. I don’t recall how many other books I bought that day, but judging from my usual book-buying habits, I would guess between two and three piles. I got them home, and Dragon sank into the pile of to-be-read books.
A year later, I was pottering around in the book section of Shiploads, certain (as always) that somewhere in there was a positive treasure trove of good books. I spotted a familiar author name. Thought: ‘Oh yes, I meant to read that book Dragon. Same bloke. Wonder if it’s good? Should I buy another when I don’t know if it’s good or not?’ And then, of course, I did buy it. This one was Dzur, which I took home; and, surprise of all surprises, read immediately.
I’ve read a lot of books. When I was kid, I read two to three books a day; and although that has slipped now that I’m older (and, *ahem*, more responsible), I still read a great many very good books. I’m always delighted to read a Diana Wynne-Jones book, for example. Or Patricia Wrede. Or Terry Pratchett. To name just a few. But when I read Steven Brust’s Dzur, I found myself for the first time delighted with the structure of a book. I hadn’t come across anything like it. I hadn’t thought about structure before: I know, I know, I’m a writer. But until I ready Dzur, the full potential and fascination of a cleverly put together structure just never occurred to me.
The structure is as follows: each chapter begins with a meal, lovingly and knowledgeably written. Moreover, each chapter preface, despite being almost exclusively based on a meal eaten by Vlad (the main character), also serves to advance the main story. Not to mention the huge boost it gives to character expansion, getting to know Vlad by his fine dining habits (when he can indulge them.)
The next day I pulled out Dragon. Again, I was amazed and delighted to follow a story structure that I hadn’t ever seen used with this level of accomplishment and panache. The chapters begin with an excerpt from the present: and smack-bang!we’re right in the middle of the action. Then each chapter segues into the past, delving into how and why Vlad ended up where he is. Ultimately, as you might expect, the two parts meet. It’s fascinating. And again, it’s something that I’ve never seen before.
Now, with all this talk about wonderful story structure, you might think that structure is all this author has going for him. Not at all. He’s also written two of the most enjoyable and compelling characters that I’ve read in quite some time: Vlad Taltos (an ex-assassin, though sometimes not quite so ex-) and his loyal but wisecracking familiar, Loiosh. I can’t say how much I enjoy the humour and personality that these two exude. Nor can I over-emphasise how well Steven Brust draws a plotline through his wonderful structures. I do love a good story.
I had to scour the internets for more of Steven Brust’s books. Those two lucky finds were my last luck as far as he was concerned. Still, Amazon’s second-hand books proved fruitful, and I discovered to my delight that this newly favourite author of mine was not dead (as too many of my favourite authors are); and was, in fact, still writing! It was nice to find that I could order quite a few of his titles on my Kindle. I love my older covers of Teckla and Phoenix and all the rest of them, but it’s kinda nice to have Tiassa on my kindle, too. And now there’s a new one coming out, so excuse me while I go and wait expectantly with my Kindle . . .
Seriously, guys. If you’re in the mood for something new, try Steven Brust. You won’t be sorry.
(Addendum: I have to modify my raptures slightly to mention that although I loved the idea of Steven Brust’s Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille, I had to stop reading it on account of the insanely high amount of bad language. So if, like me, you don’t care to read the f-word five or six times per page, every page, stick to his Vlad Taltos novels. There’s plenty there to enjoy.)