I've been waiting a long time for this book.
Brust's Jhereg series, about the adventures of a sometimes-thug, sometimes assassin Vlad Taltos, is one of the best 'live' fantasy series out there. He delivers elves and swordplay (everybody's favorite, admit it) without succumbing to the numbing sameness that affects much of today's generic medievalesque fantasy.
Taltos lives in a world dominated by tall, near-immortal Dragaerans, all of whom are sorted neatly into clans bearing the names of animals. Humans (Easterners) make a living mostly in the corners of this society. Taltos found his path with the Jhereg (basically the mob), named after a breed of scavenging lizards. He also happens to have two of said lizards as companions to whom he is telepathically linked. After working with the Jhereg for a number of years, he pissed them off wildly enough that the biggest price in history is on his head and he's been in hiding for a number of years. Now and then he emerges from obscurity long enough to have interesting adventures involving the most powerful Dragaerans in the realm and, sometimes, gods.
The most recent of said encounters endowed him with an unusual weapon whose capabilities he is still feeling out, and an unusual relationship with a goddess who seems to have been messing with his head.
OK, that's the set-up.
The hook for this one is that Taltos is drawn back into the affairs of the Jhereg because his ex-wife has gotten herself in trouble. After mismanaging the Eastern section of Adrilankha (the criminal/extortion aspects thereof) a mysterious organization of women called the Left Hand of the Jhereg is moving in and trying to displace her.
Vlad doesn't want her to get killed, so he has to figure out who they are, what they want, and how to convince them that they don't really want it badly enough any more.
Taltos is the narrator as well as the main character, and he has a spare dry voice that edges toward comedy. He doesn't explain much, which makes for a challenging read; more so, I imagine, for readers new to the series. This makes for an intense and engaging reading experience.
The story is framed by the courses of a meal at Valabar's, a restaurant whose culinary delights have been mentioned in passing many times in previous novels. Vlad's dinner companion is a Dzur; famous for their impetuousity, their skills with blade and spell, and their love of lost causes.
It's been five years since Issola was published. Brust has focused on another series set in the same universe, some five hundred years earlier (or so) in the meanwhile. But I like Vlad better, and I was so glad to see him again. There's something endearing about his wry observations, and something amazing about the way Brust manages to make them believable in a world that is his own creation but feels completely real.