by Steven Brust
Sometimes a sequel comes across favourably when compared to the original. Yendi is most definitely a case of this, improving on what made Jhereg good, while learning from––and fixing many of––the problems of the original, while trying some new things in the process. I’m going to be comparing the two quite a bit in this review, so you may want to see what I had to say about Jhereg before continuing.
In this instalment, the protagonist, Vlad, finds himself fighting for what’s his when Laris, a neighbouring mob-boss-type-guy, tries to move in an take over his domain. While Yendi still, overall, doesn’t move that quickly, we actually get some action right from the get-go, with Vlad trying to scare away––or kill away––the intruders. Vlad’s familiar, Loiosh, gets treated better by both the author and the protagonist, presented less like an outright pet/minion and exhibiting some measure of subtlety in his comedy. Brust respects the reader much more in Yendi, leaving some details unexplained and occasionally presenting something with the apparent intention of it coming up in a later book. (Don’t worry, it’s not anything critical to the plot, but it is intriguing enough to make me want to try and piece it together and read on to see how accurate I was.) And, of course, the fights are enjoyable when they happen.
Unfortunately, Brust sometimes takes the approach to giving out information a bit too far this time around. In Jhereg, a plot twist gets revealed to the reader way before the characters are hip to it, mainly because people telegraph their every thought, explaining everything in great detail. Brust doesn’t risk that this time around, mainly because he commits the mortal sin of having all the facts and hints be things we don’t know regarding characters we only just met, and who we only met on a completely superficial basis. I also think that the pacing was greatly hurt by the way Brust wrote Yendi, intending it to stand alone from Jhereg and, in doing so, it becomes repetitive when read back-to-back, with the author having to reintroduce characters and their quirks, and establish relationships that we understood from the first book. (It’s a bit of a Catch-22, where it either makes little sense when you pick Yendi up first, or it repeats itself to readers familiar with the series, so I can’t fault him too much for choosing the latter.)
Flaws and all, however, I enjoyed Yendi much more than the first, with an author showing a clear understanding of what may have worked and what did not in the first, and doing his best to improve the series. I can’t wait to check out Teckla in the hopes that this trend of refinement continues.