I'm a sucker for non-traditional narrative
Start in the middle of the story and then have two
narrative tracks -- one going forward in time and one going backwards
in time -- with matching revelations at the end of each track? Awesome.
Six different characters without any apparent
connection to each other but experiencing events which are clearly
In terms of Brust, this trend actually started in Teckla --
a novel in which a literal laundry list is used as prelude, omen, and
outline. (It's actually quite difficult to give this proper justice,
but it's really, really clever.)
Brust goes in a completely different direction: He has three different
narrative threads, all starring the same character, and all taking
place at different times during the character's life. In some ways,
he's taking the non-linear meta-structure of the series and realizing
it in the confines of a single volume.
Of course, the most important thing with a
non-traditional narrative structure is not the oddity of the structure
-- it's the effectiveness of the use to which it is put. In Taltos, that use is
subtle, but effective. A lot of it is about thematic resonance and
characterization -- I show you X in timeline A and then I show you Y in
timeline B. By juxtaposing the two concepts or the two thoughts or the
two actions, what conclusions can you draw?
But there's also a practical side to the
structure, as exposition dropped in timeline C will suddenly crop up in
timeline B (or even vice versa). This creates, in a very specific way,
a complexity of character that isn't possible in a more traditional
narrative structure -- because it highlights the fact that a person is
not merely a sequence of events or a static entity.
And while the book stands by itself in some
regards, the entire narrative is deeply
enriched by the knowledge that we -- as readers -- bear with us from
other books. The revelations of Taltos
reshape our understanding of events we have already witnessed; and the
revelations of previous books (as yet unknown to the Vlad of this
story) shape our understanding of Taltos.
That type of multi-layered, interconnected
resonance is not easy to create, but it's very satisfying to read.
All of this is evidence of Brust's continuing
maturation as an artist. And that growth can also be seen in other
aspects of the work. For example, one of the comments I made in my
reaction to Yendi was
that Brust had failed to raise the stakes from the previous volume in
the series: "The
first time you show me a rocketship? Awesome. The second
time you show me a rocketship? Nifty. Now, what are you going to do
he used the rocketship. In Taltos
he uses the rocketship with his left hand while building brand new
rocketships with his right hand.
In short, he takes his existing tableau of
characters, history, and mythology and builds upon them in new and
interesting ways. Simultaneously, he is creating whole new swaths of
hitherto unseen mythology which is not only creative in its own right
-- but which is then immediately pressed into service on a deeper
narrative level, as well.