Teckla by Steven Brust

Teckla by Steven BrustTeckla starts out by introducing marital issues between Vlad and his wife Cawti. She’s joined a group of revolutionaries and he’s following her around being overprotective and she gets mad and they spend the rest of the book fighting about it. The tension of the relationship troubles was real and at least added some conflict to the story. It still just doesn’t seem to amount to much.

My first encounter with Brust was a free Firefly novel that he wrote that I though captured the character’s voices well and was a fun story. I find his Vlad Taltos books confusing and boring. Vlad tries to make jokes but just isn’t funny. Terrible things happen that elicit no emotional response — torture, murder, assassination attempts, who cares. Even social upheaval is pretty irrelevant and doesn’t mean much.

I understand that Brust has a number of fans and Vlad Taltos — his main character — has just as many. What I don’t understand is why.

Teckla was the most interesting of the three books I’ve read but it was still emotionless, boring and confusing. Vlad will fight about Cawti joining a revolution because he’s worried about her and he will stalk her through the streets and spy on her but when questions of his motives come up he starts talking about revenge against somebody who is encroaching on his territory. The ‘bad guy’ captures him and tortures him at one point and Vlad spends the rest of the book wandering around and getting nothing much done while telling himself he’s getting revenge by keeping his wife safe, or something.

Then he has a revelation about his grandfather who shows up and fixes everything simply by saying hello to a few people.

This is definitely slow burn fantasy. In fact it’s also small stakes fantasy which makes it a little harder to get into. Slow burn is great when that burn builds into a raging fury. When it builds into what amounts to an Independence Day sparkler then I wonder why I waited so long.

What Brust is trying to do here is hard. I understand that. He’s trying to tell an emotional domestic story in a fantasy backdrop that involves assassinations and mental trauma while using a humorous cynical voice and a fair amount of social commentary on not only modern times but much of the early twentieth century mob mentality. That’s a hefty weight to shoulder in one work and if it worked it would be amazing. If he were able to pull off half of those things, or even one of them the book would at least be worthy of either deeper discussion or a mild chuckle.

Everything falls flat. Vlad is a humorless narrator and a boring person to be stuck with. The characters around him are even less interesting than he is. Character motivations are straddling the line between ‘wouldn’t this be funny’ and straight out stereotypes and ends up somewhere closer to ‘I need this for the plot.’ The plot is incomprehensible and convoluted so much that it’s not clear what’s going on (Vlad breaks into a house to spy on his wife and ends up having a chapter long conversation with a ghost who doesn’t know why he’s there — the ghost is never seen again). The social commentary isn’t doing anything other than having some events similar to real-world things happening around the time the book was written.

Then there is the writing. I’m not expecting Shakespeare or Tolkien. I just want to read a book without having to flinch at unfortunate word choices or reread passages because they make no sense. Brust seems to write with a clunky style that feels choppy and confused, like Brust doesn’t quite know what he’s trying to say so by using short sentences he can avoid the need to actually make sense.

As you can probably guess, I would not recommend this book to anybody.

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