Review: Tsalmoth, by Steven Brust

Russ Allbery eagle at
Sun May 21 19:41:59 PDT 2023

by Steven Brust

Series:    Vlad Taltos #16
Publisher: Tor
Copyright: 2023
ISBN:      1-4668-8970-5
Format:    Kindle
Pages:     277

Tsalmoth is the sixteenth book in the Vlad Taltos series and (some fans
of the series groan) yet another flashback novel to earlier in Vlad's
life. It takes place between Yendi and the interludes in Dragon (or,
perhaps more straightforwardly, between Yendi and Jhereg. Most of the
books of this series stand alone to some extent, so you could read this
book out of order and probably not be horribly confused, but I suspect
it would also feel weirdly pointless outside of the context of the
larger series.

We're back to Vlad running a fairly small operation as a Jhereg, who
are the Dragaeran version of organized crime. A Tsalmoth who owes Vlad
eight hundred imperials has rudely gotten himself murdered, thoroughly
enough that he can't be revived. That's a considerable amount of money,
and Vlad would like it back, so he starts poking around. As you might
expect if you've read any other book in this series, things then get a
bit complicated. This time, they involve Jhereg politics, Tsalmoth
house politics, and necromancy (which in this universe is more about
dimensional travel than it is about resurrecting the dead).

The main story is... fine. Kragar is around being unnoticeable as
always, Vlad is being cocky and stubborn and bantering with everyone,
and what appears to be a straightforward illegal business relationship
turns out to involve Dragaeran magic and thus Vlad's highly-placed
friends. As usual, they're intellectually curious about the magic and
largely ambivalent to the rest of Vlad's endeavors. The most enjoyable
part of the story is Vlad's insistence on getting his money back while
everyone else in the story cannot believe he would be this persistent
over eight hundred imperials and is certain he has some other motive.
It's otherwise a fairly forgettable little adventure.

The implications for the broader series, though, are significant,
although essentially none of the payoff is here. Brust has been keeping
a major secret about Vlad that's finally revealed here, one that has
little impact on the plot of this book (although it causes Vlad a lot
of angst) but which I suspect will become very important later in the
series. That was intriguing but rather unsatisfying, since it stays
only a future hook with an attached justification for why we're only
finding out about it now.

If one has read the rest of the series, it's also nice to see Vlad and
Cawti working together, bantering with each other and playing off of
each other's strengths. It's reminiscent of the best parts of Yendi. As
with many of the books of this series, the chapter introductions tell a
parallel story; this time, it's Vlad and Cawti's wedding.

I think previous books already mentioned that Vlad is narrating this
series into some sort of recording device, and a bit about why he's
doing that, but this is made quite explicit here. We get as much of the
surrounding frame as we've ever seen before. There are no obvious plot
consequences from this — it's still all hints and guesswork — but I
suspect this will also become important by the end of the series.

If you've read this much of the series, you'll obviously want to read
this one as well, but unfortunately don't get your hopes up for
significant plot advancement. This is another station-keeping book,
which is a bit of a disappointment. We haven't gotten major plot
advancement since Hawk in 2014, and I'm getting impatient. Thankfully,
Lyorn has a release date already (April 9, 2024), and assuming all goes
according to the grand plan, there are only two books left after Lyorn
(Chreotha and The Last Contract). I'm getting hopeful that we're going
to get to see the entire series.

Meanwhile, I am very tempted to do a complete re-read of the series to
date, probably in series chronological order rather than in publication
order (as much as that's possible given the fractured timelines of
Dragon and Tiassa) so that I can see how the pieces fit together. The
constant jumping back and forth and allusions to events that have
already happened but that we haven't seen yet is hard to keep track of.
I'm very glad the Lyorn Records exists.

Followed by Lyorn.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2023-05-21


Russ Allbery (eagle at             <>

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