I said, oh, just a post ago, that Steven Brust is my favorite fantasy author. I come to this assessment primarily because of his 1st-person Vlad Taltos novels, and the Alexandre Dumas homage Dragaeran novels. They take place in the same world, but where the Taltos novels are a combination of Raymond Chandler and Robert Block while the so-called “Khaavren Romances” are some of the most clever and fun novels as if written in the style of Dumas. Then there’s the hard-to-get Brokedown Palace, which also sort of takes place in the same world, but takes on yet another completely different style.
But, oddly, I’ve hardly read anything else by him. His “Firefly” fanfic was pretty fun (and I hate fanfic, even by successful authors), and Freedom & Necessity, written with Emma Bull, was intriguing. So, when Nebula-winning Jo Walton wrote an article a few months ago extolling and wonder and glory of one of Brust’s older stand-alone books, Agyar, and primarily focused on the fact the there’s a huge spoiler involved that changes the entire way the book read when you know it, well, I just had to finally read it before I got spoiled, right? Amazed that all these years of being a Brust fan, I hadn’t yet been ruined.
I hadn’t read it yet, hadn’t even bought it yet (I have a couple others of his I’ve bought and hadn’t read yet) because well, it’s a vampire story and I hate vampire stories. They have been so over-done, and honestly, Anne Rice (despite the brilliant Interview With a Vampire), completely ruined me on them with her horrible later novels. I just could never bear to try to read another, especially from my favorite author. I didn’t want to have that bad taste in my brain and taint on my fandom. But, Jo Walton was so over-the-moon with it, and her spoiler-focused article made me really wonder if maybe it really even is a vampire novel (perhaps it’s about a guy who thinks he is), I was convinced.
The next week I bought it, and devoured in in 36 hours (darn work days). And now, it is easily my favorite Brust novel, and one of my all-time favorite novels. It has some issues, it’s a little plodding in places, and, very similar to his Vlad novels in many ways, has a mystery that needs solving that doesn’t really get much attention until it kind of solves itself around the anti-hero protagonist. But the writing is beautiful and compelling, and the sense of danger and drama Brust creates around the eponymous character, is strong and brutal.
So, what’s up with Jo? Why am I upset? Because I think she unintentionally sold me false expectations. I think she is implying in her article, that the fact that Agyar is a vampire, is the spoiler. This is so absurd of an idea that I have no problem mentioning the vampire issue in this blog because it’s referred to not just on the book’s back and jacket, but it’s obvious within the first chapter.
But here’s the absolute cool thing about what Brust does: Agyar is the narrator. So never once in the entire book is the word vampire mentioned. Now, it’s not like how zombie films act like there aren’t such things as zombie films so you get zombies being called “walkers” and stuff. Vampires and their representation likely exist in the world of Agyar, but there’s ever any reason for the character to ever say the word. And when he describes vampire-like things he does, like mind control/hypnotism and blood drinking, it’s described in the same manner anything normal is described, by focusing on outcomes and reactions, not the act itself.
Like this, it sounds like Brust is being opaque and annoyingly obscure, but when you read it… well, it’s just brilliant and skillful writing. And why I’m afraid Jo might be implying that the vampire thing is the spoiler, when it’s so not. It’s obviously Brust does not intend Agyar being a vampire to be secret and surprising — what he is doing, at worst, is playing a game with the reader (in a good way) in seeing if the reader can grok what’s going on when Agyar describes something with spare and careful description.
Now, there is one actual spoiler, that actually isn’t revealed until the end, and it does affect the early reading of the book. And it is brilliant and incredibly emotion-wrenching. So, why do I think Jo wasn’t referring to this spoiler? Well, yes, she could have been. But as impactful and emotional as it is, it’s still not that significant and mind-altering as to claim it changes the way the entire book is read, like say “Sixth Sense” of “Fight Club” did.
Well, if you’re a light horror fan, an anti-hero story fan, a vampire fan, or even fantasy/drama/romance fan at all, you must read this novel! In a way, I’m glad I did wait so long to read it, so that my life of experience and emotion could help Agyar make as strong of an impact on me as it did.