The Alexandrian

Orca - Steven BrustReading Orca is a somewhat surreal experience right now. Written in 1996, it nevertheless feels as if it should have a “RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES OF TODAY!” blurb blazoned across its cover.

In my reaction to Jhereg, I described the novel as: “A pulp detective novel by Raymond Chandler, except that the main character is an assassin instead of a private detective and his seedy office is in a world of high fantasy instead of the 1940s.”

Orca, on the other hand, is just a flat-out pulp detective novel. It feels like Chinatown played out across the financial headlines of today in a world of high fantasy.

And, much like Jhereg, that’s pretty much as cool as it sounds.

Orca also continues Athyra‘s approach of using non-Vlad points of view to tell the story. I have two thoughts on this:

First, Brust makes this approach work in Orca for reasons completely different than what made it work in Athyra. In Orca the technique is used to show us Vlad from the angle of one who knows him not at all.l In Athyra, Brust uses the technique to show us Vlad from the angle of one who knows him very well… and in the process reveals a lot about both Vlad and the narrator.

Second, there is a very deliberate effect being created in choosing to tell the story of this portion of Vlad’s life through the eyes of others. There is, in fact, a layering of narratives: The story is being told to a very specific character (Cawti) by another character (Kiera); and as she narrates to Cawti, Kiera also re-tells parts of the tale which were only told to her by Vlad.

So while some portions are, at first glance, still being narrated by Vlad in a traditional fashion, even that narrative is being filtered through a second point of view.

Unreliable narrators are often used for cheap effect. But there’s nothing cheap — or simple — about what Brust is accomplishing here.

GRADE: B+

Steven Brust
Published: 1996
Publisher: Ace
Cover Price: $7.99
ISBN: 0441001963
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