In Orca, the seventh novel in Steven Brust’s fantasy series following the misadventures of wisecracking assassin Vlad Taltos, we get a little more insight into the workings of the Dragaeran empire and how this seemingly civilised society is built on corruption and injustice. Looking into the affairs of a dead merchant named Fyres in order to help out an old woman who’s providing medical care to a friend, Vlad discovers an incipient financial crisis in which the imperial bank is implicated, and which is set to ruin and/or dispossess a number of ordinary peasants. Like Iorich, which I reviewed recently, it’s a book that at its heart is about the conflict between justice and political expediency; about how the empire will always protect itself first.
It’s a fun book: I like Brust’s cynical, realistic take on high fantasy, and the fact that his cynicism never veers into grimdark nihilism; and I like that his take is focused through a character who doesn’t care about anything beyond his own personal sphere. Vlad does whatever benefits him and his friends; he’s not interested in political power or ideology, which is an interesting choice in a genre usually characterised by sweeping backdrops and plots in which whole kingdoms are at stake. The Dragaeran empire, by contrast, is essentially static: these are novels about what it’s like to live in a society you cannot hope to change, and what kind of person you have to be to thrive there.
So, yes: a fun book that picks interestingly at generic conventions, and ends up saying something about our own society as it does so. Like all of the Vlad Taltos series, it’s a light read with a bit of bite, a good way to spend a rainy afternoon; not Nabokov, but not Terry Goodkind either.