Following on the
heels of Jhereg
and Yendi, Teckla
was a completely unexpected -- and thoroughly pleasurable -- suprise.
There is a unique
pleasure to be had in discovering, as you're reading through a series
of novels, that an author has suddenly reached a higher level in their
craft. And Teckla
is the point at which Steven Brust raised his personal bar of
Everything positive I had to say about Jhereg and Yendi remains true:
The seamless mixing of high and low fantasy. The addictive nature of
Brust's prose. The intriguing suggestions of a non-linear
meta-narrative. The unique take on familiar scenarios.
But unlike Yendi,
raises the stakes. In my reaction to Yendi, I wrote:
first time you show me a rocketship? Awesome. The second
time you show me a rocketship? Nifty. Now, what are you going to do
Brust uses the (metaphorical) rocket ship.
Perhaps the most dramatic improvement in Teckla is the depth
with which the characters are drawn. In the previous books, Vlad
himself was a great narrator and quite a few members of the supporting
cast were interesting people. But in Teckla, Vlad
basically walks up to you and says, "Hi. I'm a real person." There's no
single, clear-cut example that I can point to with that -- but the
difference is palpable.
The supporting cast is similarly drenched with
utterly believable characterization. And Brust is impressive in his
ability to write characters with radically different personal
philosophies while still having them ring completely true.
I was particularly blown away when I realized,
halfway through the book, that I was frequently in vehement
disagreement with Vlad... and yet I still sympathized with him and had
no problem being inside his head for the duration of the novel.
That, frankly, is not easy to do.
And because Brust manages to pull it off, Vlad's
personal journey -- a journey that actually transforms him in
meaningful, and utterly non-contrived ways -- really pops off the page
I can contrast this directly with the love story
which was supposed to be a similarly transformative experience for
Vlad... but was instead a fairly flat and unbelievable "love at first
sight" and "burning loin hormones" affair that I was really only able
to buy into because I had previously seen the couple's later married
life in Jhereg
(which had been drawn with some legitimate affection and detail).
Here's the meat of it: At the heart of the novel, Teckla is the
story of a failing marriage and a man's desperate quest to find peace
with himself. It manages to be both heartbreakingly true and
upliftingly hopeful, without riddling itself with either maudlin pathos
or cheerful relationship porn.
Wrapped around this story (and playing into it),
Brust weaves a complicated tale of gang warfare which ties into a
social uprising... all of which is told from the POV of a man who
understands the former, but doesn't understand the latter at all. The
effect is incredibly evocative, and Brust takes full advantage of not
having an omniscient viewpoint form which to tell his story in order to
get you really living
the story right down at street level.