Details: (c) 1986 Steven K Zoltán Brust; Pub 1986 Ace Fantasy; ISBN 0-441-07181-3
Verdict: Brokedown Palace is a thought-provoking and original take on some fairly traditional fantasy themes.
Reasons for reading it / How it came into my hands: rysmiel gave it to me a while back.
Brokedown palace works on several levels; it's an exciting story, but it's also doing clever things on a metaphorical level, which gives it an impressive mythic depth. I'm surprised it's possible to create an original account of a youngest son coming into his powers to save the kingdom with the help of magical creatures and beautiful women, but BP really manages it. I didn't absolutely understand all the bits of in-story legend, and I'm sure some of the cleverness of the structure was beyond me, but the bits I did get were really cool, and none of the clever stuff interfered with the story as story.
BP made me think about all kinds of moral and philosophical questions, without ever being didactic. I really liked the way it plays with the building as metaphor for body, but the eponymous palace is still a real building as well as a metahpor. And lots of very thinky stuff about mortality and death and rebirth, though in a way that works within the story rather than some cutesy new age hokum tacked on. There are lots of references to traditional mythology, but they're very much in the background (and I probably missed loads).
The characters are both mythic archetypes and real people, and everyone is sympathetic, to the extent that it's not really clear who's on the side of "right" until right at the end. Because the characters are so solid, the story is moving, and the losses on the way to the conclusion really matter. The ending is wonderfully ambiguous too, and generally nothing is quite what the very traditional setting might lead one to expect. Some, but not all, of the narration is rather quirky, addressing the reader directly in a way that can sometimes be intensely annoying, but in BP works well to create an additional character.
A few little things I found fun too: the book is quite upfront about the fact that it's fantasy language is really Hungarian, and it even includes some linguistic notes. And just generally, it has a sense of humour which really enhances the more serious aspects.
http://dreamcafe.com/books.html not sure how interested you may be but there is a note about the places names here, also in other areas some links. Mr Brust is I think the first author I went out looking for sites on, and I may have read everything he's published. I think so at least.
What started me were the Vlad books and Orca remains one of my all time favorite books, reread annually, along with a non-Vlad books called The Gyspy. The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars is one I recently recovered. I lost a lot of books in various moves. It is the only one I can think of that gets the feel of creation right for me.
One of the things I like about him as you said that he gets things right but it is in a not quite in the background, and there's always that feeling of things in the background but not in the weighted way you'd have in Tolkien. He's deceptively easy reading.
Brokedown Palace is set in a world in which Brust has set several different stories; they stand independently sufficently well that I figured it was safe to send you it despite your distaste for things in multiple volumes, but for the record:
There is an ongoing series of fairly short novels [ nine out; I understand there are planned to be nineteen in total ] set in the major city of the Dragaerans, Brokedown Palace's elves, some human generations later, from the POV of one Vlad Taltos, who is a fascinating example of unreliable narrator; towards the wise-cracking end of hardboiled, and basically very bright and well-informed in matters of witchcraft, assassination, and quasi-Hungarian cooking, and thick as two short planks in every other direction. The first couple are fairly straightforward fantasy adventures, benefiting from the remarkable solidity of the world though betimes annoying from how limiting Vlad's focus and concerns are; they get more ambitious and quite a bit better as Vlad grows up and realises that killing people for money's not actually a nice thing to do. Definitely ones to read in publication rather than chronological order, and they generally do a remarkably good job of being a complete thing up to the end of any individual volume, it's not so much continuing stories as new perspectives and meanings opening up that make them a growing thing - it's been my experience over the past ten years* that a new one coming out generally inspires me to reread the previous ones going "so that's what that was doing, how could I not have seen it ?" and the like.
There's also a series of five books, mapping very much onto the Musketeers novels, written as in-setting historical romances by a verbose Dragaeran novelist whose style is that of late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century Alexandre Dumas translations. I find them hysterically funny, and there are overlaps of story and setting, and sometimes key scenes are seen from a different perspective through a very different voice. It would be a lot to set about reading, but I think you might find it worthwhile. [ Several of the earlier Vlad books have recently been reprinted bound three-to-a-volume, which makes getting hold of them less of a logistical exercise at least. ]
Thank you for this info. There are quite a few things where I've read and enjoyed one book, at your or lethargic_man's recommendation, and I've been meaning to ask you and people in general whether it's worth reading other stuff by the same author. So this is really useful.
I don't necessarily have a problem with multiple volumes as such, I think that's an exaggeration of my position. I dislike reading a whole long book and finding that nothing has happened beyond scene-setting, with the rest to follow in a sprawling series. And I want each book to have a proper ending and not end on a cliffhanger, as a ploy to make you buy more books. But I have nothing at all against multiple books set in the same world, or series where each book has a sensible internal structure as well as being part of a series.
I have something of a weakness for wise-cracking characters too. So I'll look out for these other books.
I think you'll find the Taltos novels very short. I don't have a page count handy but I am sure you could fit several into some of what comes out today. If you do decide to read them, I for one will be interested. Reviews!
There's a numeber of things I like. One of those is his female characters, and maybe that most especially.
Have you read the Vlad books too? Everything I heard sounded like I would love them, but I remember trying (*googles*) Issola years ago, and while I liked a lot about it -- characters, world, dialogue, magic -- I ended up feeling a bit adrift; it felt to me like it suffered from the DnD problem, having too many really important characters so it doesn't feel like it matters.
Do you have any opinion whether I should try another Brust? I love the idea of the muskateers books.
Brokedown Palace is the only Brust I have read, and I would very much recommend it if you like high fantasy. But did you intend your questions about Brust's other stuff to be addressed to rysmielelsethread?
Thank you! I will try that, or another Brust next time I get books.
But did you intend your questions about Brust's other stuff to be addressed to rysmiel elsethread?
I nearly did, but decided it was slightly cheeky to solicit the opinions of someone I've not met even once; also that I've seen you review several books and have some sense of what we might agree on :)
Thank you! In that case I probably will try an earlier one.
On the website, he said "Once more, back to Vlad. This one was fun to write, and I think it came out okay. So far, Vlad is keeping me entertained," which sounds like he liked it, but is consistent with what I saw, and what you said.
Steven Brust is another one of my favourite authors, partially because of things like Brokedown Palace and To Reign in Hell, but mostly because of his Vlad novels. And if you hadn't discovered the link already on the cafepress website, he also has an LJ that he updates infrequently: skzbrust.