The Khaavren Romances Critical Essays

Steven Brust


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Phoenix Guards was begun as the commercially successful Adventures of Vlad Taltos series (set at least a millennium later) had reached a hiatus, since overcome. There are certain similarities between The Phoenix Guards and the series: There is still an empire, and Easterners are regarded as barbarians; assassins are equally well regarded at the outset of the books, though Vlad Taltos leaves his trade during the eponymous series; and, most significant, all except Easterners (of whom Vlad is one) belong to one of the Houses. The Houses are similar to Hindu castes. The caste system controls only social interaction and the range of work available; the Houses also have a distinct effect on personality and behavior. Intra-House loyalty and rivalry are extreme. Part of the motivation for the treachery over the Pepperfields is to win control of it for the House of Phoenix rather than the House of Dragon.

Differences in background brought about in the many centuries between the books are less marked. The empire has less power, and some Easterners now are living as immigrants in Dragaera. The most noticeable change is in the matter of aging: In the Vlad Taltos series, the protagonists seem to have a normal lifespan, while those in the Khaavren Romances live for millennia.

The real difference is one of style. Brust has designed the Khaavren Romances as his homage to such writers as Alexandre Dumas, père, and Rafael Sabatini. Brust’s baroque narrative form in the earlier work has become...

(The entire section is 630 words.)