Review: Hawk

I generally don’t have too much to say about Brust’s Taltos novels, though I find all of them rewarding and most of them entertaining.  Hawk is a surprisingly meditative and cerebral book for a series that starts as such a lark.  This is the sort of thing that brings me back as a reader.  I liked the Sharpe’s books, but they don’t change much and you can see that my interest waned.  I was reading Gardner Bond books for a while, too, but I stopped reading them and he stopped writing them.  While some Taltos novels are similar, more the early ones  than the later ones, none of them are the same.  The tone and writing style changes and the characters develop in ways that are unusual for characters in what initially feels like a stock fantasy world.  I’ve said all that before.

Hawk finds Vlad tired of running and feeling the pull of his life getting away from him.  He spots a way that he thinks will get his pursuers, the Jhereg – his old allies in organized crime, off his back. Plotwise, Hawk is about building and executing that plan.  “Former fantasy mafioso on the run executes caper to get himself clear of the mob” is how my high-concept friends might summarize it.  And the summary is correct as far as it goes.  (And if that sounds like a book you’d read, you won’t be disappointed.)

I found Hawk more rewarding for two major reasons.  First, thematically, it’s about getting the right details right and Brust expresses that by doing it.  “Show don’t tell” is great writerly advice. Good writers do it with their plots; better writers do it with their characterization .  Brust does it with his theme.  Several times he creates affecting moments that both moved and surprised me.  I eventually realized that many of these were because Brust wrote exactly enough to make the scene work, not a word more, and avoided being flashy about that. A pleasure to read, whether you appreciate the technique or just feel the scene’s punch.

This is a nice theme to apply to the writing process and the living process.

Second, Vlad is ripening as a character.  Age and experience are changing him, and seeing an author take an established, popular character through that process is interesting.  I’d like to use a verb other than “ripening” here for variety, but I think this is what Vlad’s doing.  From the character’s perspective there’s no end state or plan to it (though Brust seems to have some handle on where he’s going) and the fundamentals of the character are guiding what happens.  And yet, we’re not quite sure where he’ll be next time.  It’s very interesting to watch that happen.

Strongly recommended.

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