Brust, Steven K. 1955–
Brust, Steven K. 1955–
(Steven K. Zoltan Brust)
Born November 23, 1955, in St. Paul, MN; son of William Z. (a professor) and Jean Brust; married (separated); children: Corwin Edward, Aliera Jean and Carolyn Rocza (twins), Antonia Eileen. Education: Attended University of Minnesota—Twin Cities. Politics: "Trotskyist." Religion: "Materialist." Hobbies and other interests: Cooking, poker, Middle-Eastern drumming.
Writer, musician. Employed as systems programmer, 1976-86, for various companies, including Network Systems, New Brighton, MN, 1983-86; full-time writer, 1986—. Former actor for local community theater; rock 'n' roll drummer; drummer for Middle-Eastern and Oriental dancers; folk guitarist, banjoist, singer, and songwriter.
Science Fiction Writers of America, Interstate Writers Workshop, Minnesota Science Fiction Society (executive vice president), Pre-Joycean Fellowship.
SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY NOVELS
To Reign in Hell, Steel Dragon (Minneapolis, MN), 1984.
Brokedown Palace, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1985.
The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, Armadillo Press (New York, NY), 1987.
Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1990.
(With Megan Lindholm) The Gypsy, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1992.
Agyar, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1992.
(With Emma Bull) Freedom and Necessity, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1997.
"VLAD TALTOS" SERIES
Jhereg, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1983.
Yendi, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1984.
Teckla, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1986.
Taltos, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1988.
Phoenix, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1990.
Athyra, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Orca, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Dragon, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1998.
The Book of Jhereg (contains Jhereg, Yendi, and Teckla), Ace Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Issola, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2001.
The Book of Athyra (contains Athyra and Orca), Ace Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Dzur, Tor Books (New York, NY), 2006.
"KHAAVREN ROMANCE" SERIES
The Phoenix Guards, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Five Hundred Years After, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1994.
The Paths of the Dead, Tor Books (New York, NY), 2002.
The Lord of Castle Black, Tom Doherty Associates (New York, NY), 2003.
Sethra Lavode, Tor Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Work represented in anthologies, including Liavek Anthology, 1985.
In the realms of science fiction and fantasy, Steven K. Brust's fans have become accustomed to discovering exciting and strange, yet believable, new worlds. "It is very easy to cheat when writing fantasy—to say, ‘This is magic, it just works,’" Brust once commented. "But if one is able to avoid this trap, one has the power to work real magic with the story. For me, magic must be either an alternate set of physical laws, used to express something about how we view our tools, or else a metaphor for Mystery, or the Unknown, or whatever."
Brust's own Hungarian ancestry is evident in many of his books, especially his popular five-book series that chronicles the adventures of Vlad Taltos, a warlock and hired assassin educated by a swordsman and a sorceress, who carries out assignments on behalf of the Dragonlords of the Dragaeran Empire. In Jhereg, the first book in the series, young Vlad is left to fend for himself when his father dies. The young man quickly discovers that his early education comes in handy when he has to rely on his own cunning and wit to survive among the powerful Dragaerans. In his Booklist review, Roland Green noted that "the book features intelligent world building" and "good handling of the assassin character."
Brust uses flashbacks to establish the chronology and setting of Yendi, the second book in the series, which is actually a prequel. Here, readers discover how Vlad has risen through the ranks from his start as a small-time mobster to his current status as a major criminal. Yendi also chronicles the romance and courtship of Vlad and Cawti, the Dagger of the Jhereq, who would become his wife. Green, again writing in Booklist, noted that Yendi "is as intelligent, witty, and generally well written as its predecessor."
The third book in the series, Teckla, picks up where the first, Jhereg, left off. This time, Vlad becomes involved in a revolution against the Dragaeran Empire along with the Teckla, the Empire's lowest class of citizens. During the rebellion, Vlad finds himself in the role of Cawti's protector, which only exacerbates their rocky relationship. The chronology of the series shifts again as the fourth novel, Taltos, goes back to Vlad's early life. Writing about Taltos in Voice of Youth Advocates, Carolyn Caywood stated, "This is one of the four novels of Taltos which will be of interest to the fantasy fan who discovers any one of them."
Phoenix, the fifth book in the series, finds Vlad embroiled once again in revolution and upheaval. This novel, which Voice of Youth Advocates reviewer Caywood described as "more somber and more straightforward" than Brust's previous efforts, finds Vlad questioning his life-long beliefs and occupation. Caywood added that some fans may be disappointed by the introspective nature of this book, but that "readers who are willing to follow the author's lead will discover that his conclusion has added depth to the entire series."
The Dragaeran Empire is not the only fantasy world that Brust envisions in rebellion and turmoil. To Reign in Hell, published just after Jhereg in 1984, takes place in Heaven where some of the angels are in the midst of their own revolution. "There are many fantasy novels that are thinly disguised Christian metaphors," Brust once stated. "So I wrote To Reign in Hell, which is a Christian metaphor that is really a thinly disguised fantasy novel." Voice of Youth Advocates reviewer Janet R. Mura applauded To Reign in Hell and declared that Brust "has created an engaging story with consummate skill and ability."
Another of Brust's tales derived from Hungarian folklore is Brokedown Palace, a story of magic and determination set in a crumbling palace on the banks of the river of Faerie. The plot deals with four brothers who share power in the land of Fenario. Writing in Voice of Youth Advocates, Jean Kaufman remarked, "The author creates a land where magic is expected if not really loved." Kaufman went on to refer to the book as "a sophisticated and rewarding fantasy."
In The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, a retelling of a Hungarian folktale in the idiom of modern fantasy, Brust again writes about brothers. This time, there are three, and they are on a quest to return the sun, moon, and stars to the sky, thereby bringing light to the world. Interestingly, Brust uses the folktale in this case as the framework for a novel depicting the struggle of five young artists to achieve the impossible. A reviewer for Library Journal explained how the author used his "Fantasist" conventions and generated a book that is "recommended for general fiction and fantasy collections."
With Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille, in which a fiendish paranoiac named the Physician decides to destroy his native planet in order to stop the spread of a deadly illness called Hags Disease, Brust proves that he can write science fiction as well as fantasy. The setting is Feng's, a bar and grille that features Jewish cooking, a dance floor, and the ability to travel through time and space. A contributor in Publishers Weekly noted that "Brust's fantasy landscape seems truer than the backdrops of many realistic novels" and, in Voice of Youth Advocates, Mary R. Voors called the work "a compelling and humorous science fiction novel."
The Phoenix Guards is set in Dragaera, the same world that was home to Vlad Taltos in Brust's earlier books. Though a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that this book "shares the wit and exuberance of the ‘Taltos’ books," don't expect to find Vlad here; it is a thousand years earlier. Even its sequel, Five Hundred Years After, is set too early for Vlad to make an appearance. "Full of flamboyant action and arch dialogue, this latest adventure in Brust's popular ‘Dragaeran’ novels pits sword against sorcery in classic swashbuckling style," according to a critic for Library Journal.
Brust has noted that both The Phoenix Guards and its sequel, Five Hundred Years After, were an homage to his favorite author, Alexander Dumas, and that writer's famous work, The Three Musketeers. Brust returned to this story in 2002 with the "Viscount of Adrilankha" trilogy, which Brust himself sees as one long book, and the final installment in the "Khaavren Romance," as all five volumes follow the exploits of Khaavren and other heroes introduced in The Phoenix Guards. In The Paths of the Dead Brust furthers his "exuberant, if somewhat sprawling, fantasy pastiche of Dumas," according to Booklist critic Roland Green. The Dragaeran Empire has fallen and those who survived seek to renew it with the aid of the Phoenix Zerika. A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that Brust "conjures the spirit of Dumas … though he less successfully captures the panache of those classic swashbucklers." Green, however, had higher praise for The Paths of the Dead, noting that "Brust is incapable of writing a dull book."
The saga continues in The Lord of Castle Black, following Piro, son of Khaavren, as he attempts to rebuild the empire. Booklist reviewer Frieda Murray found this installment a "good read on its own," but also noted that the author provided a list of characters and plot synopsis from The Paths of the Dead. A contributor for Publishers Weekly dubbed the work and the entire series a "wry high fantasy epic." And a Kirkus Reviews writer had higher praise for the same novel, applauding the "huge, persuasive plot, witty and ironic dialogue, and long-lived characters who actually talk and act as though they had thousands of years at their disposal."
The series is brought to a conclusion with Sethra Lavode, in which Zerika has become empress and attempts to consolidate her power with the aid of her musketeer-like supporters. But the final days of the empire are upon them. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly found this a "stylish conclusion," peppered with humor which is "sharp enough at times to induce outright laughter." Murray, writing in Booklist, thought this novel would not be the appropriate starting place for readers new to Brust, but went on to observe, "there's no denying Brust's fine pacing and worldbuilding and his sheer pizzazz."
In The Gypsy a collaborative effort between Brust and Megan Lindholm, a sinister being called Fair Lady reaches out from a parallel universe seeking to extend her shadowy dominion through magic, corruption, and murder. Opposing her is a cast of magical archetypes fronted by the Gypsy. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly called the book "a powerful and memorable fantasy" and Scott Winnett, writing in Locus, noted that it is "an exciting fantasy/mystery crossover," referring to Brust and Lindholm's work as "one of the best jobs yet combining these contrasting genres. The marriage of the two genres is near-perfect."
Brust created something of a puzzle in Agyar, an impressively wrought modern vampire/redemption yarn. The novel is presented as a bunch of bits and pieces, like a diary, written by John Agyar, an amateur with time on his hands and an old Royal typewriter, in the abandoned house where he is staying. The pieces of the puzzle are shaped by the author's first-person point of view; the clues lie more in what he does not say than what he does. Agyar's secret is pretty obvious, but Brust tantalizes, holding off on a firm confirmation for much of the novel. Eventually the puzzle pieces fall together, as events come to a head. Locus reviewer Carolyn Cushman considered Agyar "a different vampire novel, a striking contemporary dark fantasy." A Kirkus Reviews critic noted that the work is "compact, understated, and highly persuasive. Brust accomplishes with a wry turn of phrase or a small flourish what others never achieve despite hundreds of gory spatters." Washington Post Book World reviewer Robert K.J. Killheffer referred to Agyar as "good, fast-moving, intelligent fun."
Brust collaborated with Emma Bull for his next book, Freedom and Necessity. The story, which a Publishers Weekly critic described as a "romantic mystery-adventure," unfolds in nineteenth-century England after a young man gets a letter from his cousin two months after his supposed death. Writing in Booklist, reviewer Roland Green called Freedom and Necessity "an exceptional page-turner" that "deserves a place in every self-respecting fantasy collection."
In his next book, Dragon, Brust brings back Vlad Taltos, his most popular protagonist. A prequel to Yendi and a sequel to Jhereg, Dragon recounts Vlad's early career as an assassin. When Vlad accepts an assignment to search for a stolen sword, his actions start a war between two dragonlords, and Vlad becomes a soldier in one of the dragonlord's armies. Booklist's Green complained that in Dragon, "Brust's writing style has changed noticeably," but he conceded that "Vlad's devotees will not be put off by anything so petty as stylistic dissonance." Writing for Library Journal, Jackie Cassada stated that Dragon "belongs in libraries" where the Vlad Taltos series is popular. A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised Dragon and the skill with which Brust incorporates his literary influences into the story: "As always, Brust invests Vlad with the panache of a Dumas musketeer and the colloquial voice of one of Roger Zelazny's Amber heroes. This is a rousing adventure with enough humor, action, and sneaky plot twists to please newcomers as well as longtime fans."
Brust carries the "Vlad Taltos" series further with the 2001 Issola, which is set at the conclusion of the 1996 offering in the series, Orca. Here Vlad is trying to escape the Jhereg and to rescue friends in danger. Green, writing in Booklist, felt Vlad was in fine form in this outing, "smart-mouthing … and exercising the same derring-do that has kept Brust's stalwarts turning the pages for years." Similar praise came from a Publishers Weekly contributor who noted, that though the novel begins slowly, "Brust cranks up the volume midway and the story begins to crackle with easily understood tension."
Dzur, from 2006, and the tenth novel in the popular series, begins where Issola ended, with the ex-assassin Vlad attempting to rescue friends and dispose of enemies. Among the latter is the mysterious group known as the Left Hand of the Jhereg. A Publishers Weekly critic felt "Brust brings … grimy streets … to life in swift, vivid strokes." Booklist contributor Murray was also impressed with this installment, calling it a "must-read for series fans."
"There appears to be a split in literature between work with strong story values and nothing else, and work that has depth and power but no story values," Brust has said. "The stuff I enjoy reading most can be read as simple entertainment, but rewards more intense reading as well. Since I try to write the sort of stories I like to read, that is what I attempt to do in my own work. Science fiction is a category that allows and even encourages this, WHICH IS ONE OF THE REASONS I WRITE IT."
Writing in Strange Horizons, Chris Olson observed that Brust "might just be America's best fantasy writer. His books are fast-paced, witty, and stretch the boundaries of contemporary fantasy." Similarly, BookSlut.com contributor Adrienne Martini wrote, "Brust's two dozen books are pedestal-type examples of what modern fantasy is. In his books, there are no grouchy dwarves, no predictable quests and no talking cats." Martini went on to comment: "What's crucial to [Brust's] fantastic tales is the story itself, which gallops through the characters like a runaway stampede. Above all else, Brust is a storyteller, even though his stories frequently involve otherwordly elements like floating castles in imaginary lands."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Analog: Science Fiction/Science Fact, September, 1987, review of The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, p. 159; December, 1992, Tom Easton, review of The Gypsy, p. 161; June, 1993, Tom Easton, review of Agyar, p. 160.
Booklist, July, 1983, Roland Green, review of Jhereg, p. 1387; September 15, 1984, Roland Green, review of Yendi, p. 108; February 15, 1986, review of Teckla, p. 851; April 1, 1987, review of The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, p. 1180; March, 1988, review of Taltos, p. 1098; November 1, 1990, review of Phoenix, p. 504; August, 1991, review of The Phoenix Guards, pp. 2108, 2110; June 15, 1992, Elliott Swanson, review of The Gypsy, p. 1811; March 1, 1994, review of Five Hundred Years After, pp. 1185, 1188; March 15, 1997, Roland Green, review of Freedom and Necessity, p. 1231; June 1, 2001, Roland Green, review of Issola, p. 1855; December 15, 2002, Roland Green, review of The Paths of the Dead, p. 739; August, 2003, Frieda Murray, review of The Lord of Castle Black, p. 1967; April 15, 2004, Frieda Murray, review of Sethra Lavode, p. 1431; September 15, 1998, Roland Green, review of Dragon, p. 205; August 1, 2006, Frieda Murray, review of Dzur, p. 56.
Bookwatch, June, 1993, review of Agyar, p. 2.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1987, review of The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, p. 338; September 1, 1991, review of The Phoenix Guards, p. 1121; May 15, 1992, review of The Gypsy, p. 641; December 15, 1992, review of Agyar, p. 1517; February 15, 1994, review of Five Hundred Years After, p. 179; July 15, 2003, review of The Lord of Castle Black, p. 944.
Kliatt, April, 1990, review of Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille, p. 22; November, 1993, review of The Gypsy, p. 14; July, 1994, review of Agyar, p. 13.
Library Journal, March 15, 1987, review of The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, p. 93; September 15, 1991, review of The Phoenix Guards, p. 117; February 15, 1993, Jackie Cassada, review of Agyar, p. 196; March 15, 1994, review of Five Hundred Years After, p. 104. November 15, 1998, Jackie Cassada, review of Dragon, p. 95; August, 1999, Jackie Cassada, review of Jhereg, p. 148.
Locus, July, 1991, review of The Phoenix Guards, p. 33; October, 1991, review of The Phoenix Guards, p. 44; July, 1992, review of The Gypsy, p. 47; September, 1992, Scott Winnett, review of The Gypsy, p. 37; April, 1993, review of Agyar, p. 46; August, 1993, review of The Gypsy, p. 44; February, 1994, Carolyn Cushman, review of Agyar, p. 75; March, 1994, review of Five HundredYears After, p. 35; April, 1994, review of Agyar, p. 47; May, 1994, review of Five Hundred Years After, p. 47.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December, 1987, review of The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, p. 35; April, 1999, Michelle West, review of Dragon, p. 36.
Publishers Weekly, March 4, 1983, review of Jhereg, p. 97; June 1, 1984, review of Yendi, p. 63; November 22, 1985, review of Brokedown Palace, p. 50; March 27, 1987, review of The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, p. 36; December 8, 1989, review of Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille, p. 50; August 2, 1991, review of The Phoenix Guards, p. 66; May 25, 1992, review of The Gypsy, p. 43; February 14, 1994, review of Five Hundred Years After, p. 83; January 27, 1997, review of Freedom and Necessity, p. 77; October 19, 1998, review of Dragon, p. 60; June 11, 2001, review of Issola, p. 66; November 22, 2002, review of The Paths of the Dead, p. 47; July 28, 2003, review of The Lord of Castle Black, p. 84; April 26, 2004, review of Sethra Lavode, p. 46; June 9, 2006, review of Dzur, p. 44.
Science Fiction Chronicle, December, 1987, review of The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, p. 46; July, 1990, review of Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille, p. 37; June, 1992, review of The Gypsy, p. 33; December, 1992, review of Agyar, p. 38; February, 1994, review of Agyar, p. 28; June, 1994, review of Five Hundred Years After, p. 39.
Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1986, Jean Kaufman, review of Brokedown Palace, p. 86; February, 1986, Janet R. Mura, To Reign in Hell, p. 393; August, 1988, Carolyn Caywood, review of Taltos, p. 137; June, 1990, Mary R. Voors, review of Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille, p. 113; December, 1990, review of Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille, p. 269; February, 1991, Carolyn Caywood, review of Phoenix, p. 361; April, 1991, review of Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille, p. 10; April, 1992, review of The Phoenix Guards, p. 40; December, 1992, review of The Phoenix Guards, p. 320; February, 1993, review of The Gypsy, p. 345; August, 1994, review of Five Hundred Years After, p. 154; April, 1999, Nancy K. Wallace, review of Dragon, p. 45.
Washington Post Book World, May 2, 1993, Robert K.J. Killheffer, review of Agyar, p. 8.
BookSlut.com,http://www.bookslut.com/ (February 22, 2007), Adrienne Martine, interview with Brust.
Sci Fi Wire,http://www.scifi.com/scifiwire/ (August 24, 2006), John Joseph Adams, review of Dzur.
Steven Brust Home Page,http://www.dreamcafe.com (February 22, 2007).
Strange Horizons,http://www.strangehorizons.com/ (February 3, 2003), Chris Olson, interview with Brust.