Details: (c) 1988 Steven KZ Brust; Pub 2002 Ace; ISBN 0-441-00894-1
Verdict: Taltos is a fun read.
Reasons for reading it: I enjoyed the first three in this setting and was very willing to pick up some more. Then I lent the first set to cartesiandaemon, who got on well with them, so I promised him I'd read the next pair before I next see him, so that I can then lend him the volume.
How it came into my hands: I like the series enough that I was willing to splash out for the next couple when I was buying books from Amazon.
Taltos is enjoyable, but not particularly outstanding. It acts as a kind of prequel to the series, filling in the actual story of the Paths of the Dead that is often referred to in the other books, and giving some snapshots of Vlad's childhood, and explaining why several of the most powerful people in Dragraera go out of their way to help Vlad. As it is, it's fairly slight, though, definitely enjoyable but not so intricate as some of the others. I wonder if this was the one that put cartesiandaemon off the series when he encountered it out of the context of the others; his parody rather applies here:
Vlad is one of the most badass people in the world. (Badass mainly in the sense of sword combat.) He can do things "even" more-badass-person couldn't. He is outclassed by even-more-badass person who is basically a demigod. Who is outclassed only by the most powerful beings in and out of the universe. Who are still inferior to Vlad in that he is gutsy...
Since I'd read the earlier books in the series (although they fall later in the chronology of Vlad's life), the characters were already established for me, so I wasn't too bothered by what might have seemed like weaknesses if the book were a complete standalone. Also, the scenes of Vlad actually learning his trade and making mistakes help to balance the slight tendency for him to be over-powered and too ludicrously competent. I think the way Taltos is strongly connected to what the reader already knows (without in any way making the book a mere episode in the series, it would work fine as a standalone, just a little less subtle than some of the others) really enhances it, though. I'm starting to think I should follow rysmiel's custom of rereading the whole lot before embarking on a new one, because they are quick reads, and I was there were a couple of allusions that felt familiar but I couldn't recall the exact details of what was being referenced.
The part of me that snaffled up bits of information when I was going out with a classicist had a major "squee, katabasis!" reaction to the main plot element! It's a lovely take on the hero descending into hell story, both emotionally evocative and with lots of the expected mythological elements in place. One of the things I very much like about Brust is the interweaving of familiar mythology with original story.
There weren't really any good Loiosh lines in this, which is disappointing. And I miss Cawti; it's reasonable that she doesn't do anything in a book set before the hero meets her, but she does help to balance Vlad who can get a little bit annoying when his wisecracking is centre stage all the time. That said, there's a line of description which completely cracked me up, basically taking a geek cliche and applying it to Vlad's situation as if it were original.
Anyway, yes, lots of fun, and I read the whole thing in about an hour, which made it just the thing to clear my head after slogging through Hyperion.