(1955- ) US writer; a member of the Scribblies. SB's work mostly stands at something of an angle to the Contemporary-Fantasy preoccupations of that group, while sharing their sense of aggressive pleasure in creating what they most want to read or hear. This glory in competent performance is one of the traits of Vlad Taltos, Antihero of the sequence which dominates SB's work; there is also a contemporary-fantasy feel to the specifics of corruption and gang warfare in the City of Adrilankha that acts as Taltos's backdrop.
The Taltos sequence comprises Jhereg (1983), Yendi (1984) and Teckla (1986) – all three assembled as Taltos the Assassin (omni 1991 UK) – plus Taltos (1988; vt Taltos and the Paths of the Dead 1991 UK), Phoenix (1990) and Athyra (1993). Related is the Khaavren sequence: The Phoenix Guards (1991), Five Hundred Years After (1994) and «The Viscount of Adrilankha». Brokedown Palace (1986) contains associated material.
Taltos is one of the large racial minority of humans, apparently from Eastern Europe (a legendary version of their crossing the borders between worlds is given in Brokedown Palace) in an Alternate World (or perhaps an sf-argued world whose lineaments have yet to be revealed) dominated by tall, magically gifted nonhumans, the Dragaerans (i.e., Elves). The Dragaerans appear to have been genetically manipulated by supernatural or alien beings – the same ones who inflicted humanity on them – so that each of their clans (effectively subspecies) has characteristics of its totemic animal.
The Khaavren books are "historical novels" written shortly before Taltos's time by a Dragaeran equivalent of Alexandre Dumas père; various characters from them recur, later in their vast lifespans, as important characters in the Taltos sequence. Not without their sinister side, these are the jauntiest and most likeable of SB's books.
Taltos is a typical figure of a less innocent time: an assassin, tavern-keeper and pimp, he has risen to the status of minor functionary in his adopted Dragaeran clan, the Jhereg – the Mafia, in effect. He has a Companion in the shape of a small poisonous reptilian flier, a jhereg, and some ability in the human varieties of Magic. He finds himself caught up in the court and metaphysical intrigues of the Dragaeran aristocracy and their Gods, not least because he is an Avatar of an ancient Dragaeran folk-Hero. Latterly, he is compromised by his wife's involvement in a revolutionary movement, apparently imported from Earth; in Athyra, the only Taltos book not told in the first person, he is on the run in the pastoral Dragaeran hinterland. The Taltos books offer unusually sophisticated versions of standard Heroic-Fantasy tropes; SB explores aspects of crime and punishment, politics and history not usually given this much weight in the form. Above all, these books deal unusually acutely with racism.
Of his nonseries work, To Reign in Hell (1984) is a dreamlike account of the intrigues whereby Jehovah (> God), originally one of several equals, politically discredits, isolates and exiles his principal rivals, who become the Devils of Christian myth; it parallels, rather than imitates, Anatole France's La Révolte des Anges (1914). Agyar (1993) is a Vampire novel which imitates Gene Wolfe's Peace (1975) in the refusal of its hero to talk about his situation. SB brings to Gypsy (1992) with Megan Lindholm an amoral sense of Hungarian gypsy Folklore that blends interestingly with Lindholm's streetwise pieties. [RK]
other works: The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars (1987), fairytale retelling; Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille (1990), sf.
Steven Karl Zoltan Brust