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    ISSOLA by Steven Brust

    TOR, July 2001

    Vlad Taltos has been an assassin and a witch and, all in all, is a pretty tough guy. But when it comes to a battle between the gods and the Jenoine (who may, possibly, be more powerful than the gods themselves), he knows he doesn't amount to much. Unfortunately for him, his 'friends' Morrolan and Aliera vanish, are apparently kidnapped by the Jenoine. The beautiful Lady Teldra drafts Vlad into the apparently hopeless task of rescuing two of the most powerful beings in the universe.

    Vlad reluctantly sets off on an adventure that seems serious at the start, and gradually escalates into an epic confrontation that may decide the fate of the universe. Vlad has as much respect for the universe as anyone, but anyone could see he is over his head, yet no one will let him escape his apparent fate.

    Author Steven Brust does a wonderful job melding heroic action with wry humor. The device of Vlad's familiar allows Vlad to communicate his insights even when he can't speak them out loud, letting the reader see deeper into this character than would normally be the case. This is lucky, because Vlad is quite a character. Brust applies his humor with a deft touch, being careful not to overwhelm the plot but rather enhancing it by making us care more deeply about Vlad and about those he cares about.

    The Jenoine make attractive villains partly because they are so powerful and because they are opposed to Vlad and his friends, and partly because they are so completely unable to understand the humans that they deal with. Brust's description of the Jenoine universe sounds vaguely Platonic, making them even more alien while also letting readers feel like they are in on a secret.

    ISSOLA was a pleasure to read. Brust was able to hook the reader to the characters and the plot, increasing the reader's emotional stakes while, simultaneously, delivering the goods.

    Four Stars

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