Monday, January 02, 2006

Steven Brust: The Paths of the Dead

Steven Brust's The Paths of the Dead looks likely to be a pivotal story in the chronicles of the Dragaeran Empire. Some new characters and some old characters are involved in an attempt to revive the empire, and of course intervention by gods and demigods ensues. It's a good adventure, and I (mostly) like the way Brust tells it. Like a couple of others of his recent stories, Brust has chosen a particularly wordy style for this story. In the Vlad Taltos stories that introduced this universe, Brust showed that he can switch writing styles whenever he wants, and that he has a good ear for choosing a style to match the story he wants to tell. Given that skill, I'm not sure why all the conversations in this part of the series are so long winded:

"That was well done," said Orlaan.
"Do you think so?""
"I am certain of it."
"Then I am satisfied."
"Come, sit next to me."
"Very well, you see that I am sitting."
"And are you listening"
"With all of my attention."
"Then I will tell you a story."
"I like stories, if they are good ones."
"I think mine is a good one."
"I will listen, and judge."
"I can ask for no more."
"Begin, then."

Every conversation seems to go this way. "Do you think so?" "I very nearly do." I guess Brust is trying to show that the characters are high born and flowery of speech, but he seems to go beyond what's necessary to make the point.

And somehow the story makes decent progress, with interesting characters being introduced and setting some events into motion that tie back into the main thread later. There's a plausible amount of journeying around with adventures en route. (The Empire was a large place, and it's plausible that when it was replaced with patches of local government many areas would be left unpatrolled and it would take a while for the local citizenry to find a way to enforce order.)

In this story, a coalition of local potentates with expanding realms decides that the portents are right for them to reestablish the empire. That requires a pilgrimage, and of course more adventures. In between episodes, we learn something of the history of Morrolan and other characters we've seen in the Vlad Taltos stories.

Even the sections that seem to be no more than backdrop are interesting and keep up the pace. I didn't pick up on any deep themes or resolutions of important crises in this installment, but I enjoyed reading it nonetheless.

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