Paperback: 389 pages
Publisher: Ace Books (Jan 2002)
I read this book in two parts, since it comprises the two novels Taltos and Phoenix, and in chronological (rather than publication order), Dragon comes between them. Brust considers publication order possibly superior, but has mostly written the novels to be read in any order. As a pair, read with Dragon between, they are revealing - Taltos and Phoenix have the events of at least four other novels between them.
Taltos occurs right at the start of Vlad Taltos's career, and is quite complex structurally, with a number of different timelines braided together. In one, he is casting a spell - this time-line is a fairly short present. A second time-line shows how he got to the present point, while a third one covers his further past, showing how he got to the point where the second time-line comes into play to bring him to the present-time events.
So, this book tells how Vlad became what he is - a mid-level Jhereg career criminal. It also tells how he travelled to the Land of the Dead, and how he met and gained the favour of Aliera and Morrolan - two of the most powerful people in the land.
Moving on to Phoenix, we have a much later and more conflicted Vlad. His relationship with Cawti has broken down over her political activism (I know that well), and he's been set up. To do an assassination, for reasons that remain remarkably murky, and set up by his patron goddess at that. The result is fairly catastrophic, and in the end, Vlad has to be prepared to make sacrifices rather than just put himself in harm's way to prevent greater harm happening. This Vlad is a much more complex one that the one from the first half of this volume, and somewhat more sympathetic than the early swaggering thug.
If you were to read this volume as the first ever Taltos stories you read, then the mid-volume jump would probably be deeply confusing - so it would be better to read The Book of Jhereg before at least the second half.
Two more instalments of Vlad Taltos.