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I started reading Steven Brust's books back in high school, and the first one I read was Five Hundred Years After, which I picked up because of the similarity with the Dumas title. The first two books of the Khaavren Romances have been favorites ever since. (I really, really like almost all of his other books too, but for some reason, I just can't stand Brokedown Palace. This dislike makes absolutely no sense to me. I'll start reading, thinking that surely this time will be different, and perhaps even note some bit of wordplay that I admire, and yet I will have no desire but to put it down. I did manage to get through it once, and it was interesting plot-wise, but something about the style, or something about something...I wish I knew what.)

I didn't love the first two books of the Viscount of Adrilankha. I liked them quite a bit, but perhaps because they were the first two thirds of a three volume work, or perhaps because they didn't contain enough Khaavren for my tastes, or perhaps just because they aren't yet so familiar as to be old favorites, they fell a little short of expectations. Expectations were perhaps impossibly high.

Now I feel that having said what I said in the previous paragraph I am almost impelled to make the contrast and say I loved Sethra Lavode. It was in fact my intention in writing the previous paragraph, but now that I am here, I find myself less inclined to define things so. So instead I will say that I was very satisfied with this book, and might, in a different mood, admit to loving it.

Now for the details.

First of all, Tazendra is so cool. It has been a while since I've read Dumas--since high school, I'm fairly sure, for Le Vicomte de Bragelonne--but Porthos was never a favorite of mine. I prefer brains to brawn. But Tazendra...so much more than Porthos. Just look at her death. She fights a Jenoine--and she wins. There's a bit in Five Hundred Years After where Tazendra and Sethra talk about what it is to be Dzur, and the contrast between Tazendra's Jenoine and Porthos's death being crushed by rocks reminds me of that conversation. "There has never been a stupid sorcerer who lived past his five hundredth year," Sethra says, and Tazendra is a sorcerer and she is not stupid. With Dumas, I don't remember ever feeling Porthos was anything but stupid and strong. Shallow. Led around by his friends. Perhaps, being Dragaeran, Tazendra had time to grow out of shallowness.

Or perhaps her friends were less likely to use her than Porthos's friends. They certainly seem to value the friendship more--in Dumas, the musketeers end up on opposite sides of more than one conflict. In Brust, the Phoenix guards stick together. This pattern begins in the first books, where there are clear parallels between the journeys in The Phoenix Guards and The Three Musketeers; the four protagonists face almost exactly the same trials, and the musketeers are picked off one by one, while the phoenix guards manage to stay together.

In this book, Pel admits to having switched side because of friendship. In the same conversation, Tazendra identifies Pel with loyalty. Aramis never seemed to value friendship so highly--his ambitions came first. Pel does well enough for himself, and he is clearly very ambitious, but there is more to him than ambition. Overall, I'm much happier with Brust's characters.

I wonder if this is a cultural thing. Perhaps Dumas's readers were happy with Dumas's characters in the same way I'm happy with Brust's. Perhaps it's expectations again. Or perhaps it's that I haven't actually read Dumas in a long time, and I'm simplifying it in my memory.

Just recently I found most of the D'Artagnan Romances at used book stores, and now that I have all the Khaavren Romances, I will at some point have to read them all together and enjoy the parallels. I'm sure I was missing a lot in the book--I'm not even exactly sure, of Kana and Zerika, who is Louis and who is Philippe.

Piro is clearly Raoul--which is interesting since he's not Aerich's son. As I recall, Athos died after Raoul died, just sort of wasting away. Aerich dies after Tazendra dies, and it's a completely pointless death. Unlike Tazendra, he doesn't accomplish anything before dying. But in this case, it seems Tazendra fulfills Raoul's role, which is interesting because she's his vassal.

Speaking of Piro, his inappropriate love is also interesting, but more for its comments on Dragaeran society than for it's parallels with Raoul's love for Louise; the parallels are not very close anyway, I don't think. Just the inappropriateness of it. But Piro and Ibronka make me wonder just how inappropriate cross-House love is, and whether attitudes about it change. In our world, one would expect it to become more acceptable as time goes on, but I'm not sure real world expectations about social change apply to Dragaera. Dragaeran society seems much more static, and held that way by the Cycle. In the real world, one would also expect republics to last, but in Dragaera, the Teckla republic occurs when the Cycle dictates, and not otherwise. One the other hand, Paarfi is always mentioning architectural styles, which seem to change, so some things do change. Of course, architecture isn't clearly tied to the Cycle, whereas composition of the Houses is. If cross-House pairings became too common, the Houses would disappear, and what would happen to the Cycle then?

I'm glad Brust took a look at the issue of cross-House pairing, though. From the characters' point of view it's complex and difficult and the way it rippled through the interactions led to what I felt to be the most resonant line in the book: "My conscience is dead, now." After I read that, I stopped reading for about a minute, to let that line sink in. Aerich's death wasn't a surprise, since I've read Le Vicomte de Bragelonne, but the way it played out with everything else...oh, oh, oh.

Khaavren's lack of death was a surprise, though. No direct parallel for "Athos - Porthos, farewell till we meet again! Aramis, adieu forever!" Rather, we have a commentary on happiness.

I have heard criticism about Athyra because the one hundred year old Savn acts just like a child, which is something that I wouldn't have thought of on my own because I just naturally translated 500 years into 20 and so on. But now I find myself wondering if the difference between Khaavren, Aerich, Tazendra, and Pel and D'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis can be explained by the Dragaerans' longer lifespan. Do they have different priorities because they have more time? Not that I really believe that a human lifespan is a short amount of time, but nor is it an impossibly long amount of time. A Dragaeran's lifespan is an impossibly long amount of time. So impossibly long that I can't begin to imagine or say anything more about it, but I like the idea that it was that which made the difference between the Phoenix guards and the musketeers.

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