Initially, Phoenix was to be the point at which Steven Brust would go on hiatus from the Vlad Taltos character; that didn't happen, but the finalized tone for many plot points in the series thus far still shines through.
One of the stronger entries in the Vlad Taltos series to this point, Phoenix provides a good endpoint to the front end of Vlad's ideals, beliefs and relationship with House Jhereg, while setting up for a promising, soul searching future for the series.
Vlad is just as devilishly charming and smart mouthed as we've come to expect in the series, but we also see a very welcome time of self doubt and a fair amount of instances of seeing a softer side to the character; particularly when dealing with Cawti, his wife, or Noish-Pa.
Noish-Pa also shines through rather surprisingly in this entry, getting a fair amount of character development compared to his earlier involvement in the series. Cawti and her band of revolutionaries, meanwhile, takes somewhat of a backseat compared to their part in Teckla.
The involvement of the gods in this universe also gets some light shed onto it, showing us just how involved a god is willing to get in the lives of mortals.
The writing for Phoenix is as strong as it usually is, while providing a plot more balanced between action and emotion than did the emotionally dark Teckla; Vlad having come more to grips with the status of his relationship with Cawti. Bernard Setaro Clark continues to deliver his fantastic performance and characterizations.
This entry is at least on par with Jhereg, which I feel has been the strongest entry in the series so far. Those looking for something new from Vlad Taltos will enjoy this transition to the next part of his life.
Vlad continues his life on the run from the Jhereg, this time with a catatonic companion in tow.
In Orca, Vlad is searching for a way to heal his companion Savn, who the audience met in the previous installment. He happens upon an old healer who is the midst of losing her property. Vlad brokers a deal to help her keep her land, while she cares for Savn and finds a method to heal him. But there is more going on than just a property deal, as Vlad quickly finds out.
While still a good story, it feels like the overall plot has come to a bit of a stutter here, the reader could almost consider this filler. Almost. The most important part of Orca is that we get somewhat of a resolution for Savn's involvement in the story, which carries over from the last book. Full of twists and turns and even a few big surprises, the book doesn't disappoint, but you could easily skip over this without missing a beat in the overall story.
For Orca we get the pleasure of listening to two narrators. Masters gives us a great Keira the Thief, while Clark reprises the always smarmy Vlad. Masters gives a bit of a celtic accent to Keira, which Clark has done a bit of in previous novels; it's good to see a bit of vocal continuity, especially since most of the story is told by Keira the Thief.
Good story, but bigger and better things are to come later in the series.
Initially, I thought this entry in the series would be subpar without Vlad himself as narrator, but that misconception quickly evaporated. Although having a new point of view is jarring and doesn't get much better through the experience. The story seems a bit clunky because of the new view as well, but it is fun seeing "vagabond Vlad".
Vlad returns after several years of silence in his timeline, he alludes to several adventures he's had in the interim, one involving the disfigurement of his hand. He's a changed man, but just as snide as ever.
We meet Vlad again through the eyes of a young Teckla, Savn. Savn has had little exposure to Easterners and is not quite sure what Vlad is all about, particularly when one of the townsfolk turn up dead shortly after Vlad's arrival.
This all culminates in an interesting character piece. We see where Vlad has ended up after years on the run, and how far he is willing to go to ensure his safety. Even if it means messing up a lord or two.
As always, Bernard Setaro Clark is fantastic with his reading, but he maintains a higher pitch through most of the story to fit with the young Teckla who is telling us the story; it can get a bit grating after a time, especially when said Teckla seems to be fairly clueless about how most of the world works.
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