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 excellence.
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, Teckla raises the stakes. In my reaction to Yendi, I wrote: “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 with it?”
In Teckla, 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 deep, meaningful, and utterly non-contrived ways — really pops off the page here.
I can contrast this directly with the love story in Yendi, 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.
Cover Price: $7.99