Author: Steven Brust
Details: (c) 1984 Steven Brust; Pub 1999 Ace Books; ISBN 0-441-00615-9
Verdict: Yendi is a good story with a great setting.
Reasons for reading it: I enjoyed Brokedown Palace by the same author, and various people recommended the Vlad Taltos series. Then I was put off reading it for a while because skzbrust was being irritating in a blog discussion I was participating in. I still can't entirely get used to the idea that authors are real people you can have political debates with! Eventually I decided that being irritated by Brust as a person constitutes a really bad reason not to read the book (if he had been actively obnoxious that's a different story, but just being bad at defending his political opinions in an online debate is fairly irrelevant).
How it came into my hands: rysmiel, who is wonderful, sent me a collected edition of the first three Taltos books as a housewarming present when I moved here. Then I stupidly forgot rysmiel's advice to read in publication order rather than chronologial, so I read the second book first, but never mind. I enjoyed it in any case.
Yendi feels like the kind of book someone might write who was irritated with the flaws, cliches and unexamined assumptions of second-rate fantasy. In many ways the plot is a showcase for the world-building, which is undoubtedly excellent. But it's pretty exciting as a story, and Taltos is a lovely character. He is a really successful example of something which very rarely works, namely the lovable bastard. But even with such a great narrator, I couldn't get very deeply into all the intriguing and politics among secondary characters, or care when the villain turned out to be some random person Taltos had interacted with for two minutes at a party. That said, the way the focus moves outward from the minor gang war of the opening scences to the wider political implications of that is pretty smoothly done.
So there's the usual vaguely pre-industrial world with elves and humans and approximately D&D styles of magic. But the world is really solid and things like teleport and resurrection spells have actual social consequences. And there's some interesting examination of the relationships between the races, done from an unusual point of view. The existence of modern genetics (not selective breeding, which is obviously an ancient technology, but analysing blood samples to determine ancestry) jars a little in this tech level, but I suppose it's magical genetics rather than molecular.
Another of the implied criticisms it seems to be addressing to sword&sorcery stuff is that a lot of it is very girly, which Yendi really isn't. There's a lot of violence, but it's all very fantasy and not emotionally engaging, the sort of thing that would look great on screen. The love interest starts off aiming for a tinge of machismo without crossing the line into actual misogyny, but to be honest it quickly gets soppy anyway.
Some of the incluing is a tad unsubtle. For example, using laboured lightbulb jokes to explain the differences between the various Houses. And the trick where Taltos explains something that would be perfectly obvious to a modern American audience, showing that his viewpoint is thoroughly in Dragaera and he's not a transplanted observer is kind of cute, but it's repeated far too many times with almost identical wording.
Yendi doesn't have the subtlety and depth of Brokedown Palace. But it's highly readable and definitely made me want to read more from the setting.