The Paths of the Dead is the first book in Steven Brust’s THE VISCOUNT OF ADRILANKHA trilogy, which is a sequel to The Phoenix Guards and Five Hundred..Show More » Years. Each of these books is an installment in Brust’s KHAAVREN ROMANCES and they’re all related to his VLAD TALTOS books which, at this moment, consist of 13 novels. All of these books have just been released in audio format by Audible Frontiers. I picked up The Paths of the Dead after reading that it can stand alone. You might wonder why I started here and, honestly, it’s because we already had reviews for some of the VLAD TALTOS novels and for The Phoenix Guards and Five Hundred Years but none for any of THE VISCOUNT OF ADRILANKHA books. I now realize that it would have been better to start with the first VLAD TALTOS novel, Jhereg. Our omniscient and intrusive narrator assures us that no history is required to enjoy The Paths of the Dead, but I found that I wished I had the background to more thoroughly relate to our heroes. They’re descendants of the characters in Brust’s previous novels and they’re associated with “houses” which are known by their particular personality traits. While relevant information is occasionally briefly explained in The Paths of the Dead, I felt like I was missing the rich history that would have increased my enjoyment. Nevertheless, I can talk about the plot and the style of this novel.
This is the story of how Zerika, with a little help from her adventurous friends, went to the Paths of the Dead to obtain the Orb which would restore the empire to its former glory — a story referred to in the other Brust books. Most of The Paths of the Dead is set-up for this event which takes relatively few pages at the end. There is also some history on Morrolan and a few other characters that Brust fans are familiar with.
But all of those folks get upstaged by the real main character in The Paths of the Dead: the narrator. If you’ve read the previous KHAAVREN ROMANCES, you know that Brust is parodying Alexandre Dumas. His narrator, a historian named Paarfi, is pompous and wordy, constantly interjecting information, opinions, and explanations about his writing style in his pretentious tone. This is often very funny and I chuckled frequently, especially at the beginning of the story when it was all new to me. However, after a while, it becomes repetitive and tedious. For example, while Paarfi regularly insists that he’s being brief and sparing us unnecessary details, he actually does the opposite which, of course, is meant to be humorously ironic. But it gets irritating when he records numerous conversations that go something like this: