"The Phoenix Guards" is a fantasy novel by Steven Brust. Brust is well known for his Vlad Taltos series, which are set in the Dragaeran empire, an extremely well constructed fantasy world featuring 17 races of Dragaerans and 1 race of Easterners (or humans). "The Phoenix Guards" is set in the same empire but about 1000 years before the birth of Vlad Taltos.

In my opinion, this novel is interesting for fans of the Taltos series for two main reasons:

1. It shows some of the earlier history of the Dragaeran empire, but from the point of view of a Dragaeran, not from the human point of view of Vlad Taltos. Not only is the main character, Khaavren, a Dragaeran (a Tiassa to be more precise), but the fictional narrator of the story, Paarfi, is a also a Dragaeran.

2. The writing style, which echoes the style of Alexandre Dumas. Imagine long, very intricately constructed sentences, and a focus on very formal, over-polite conversation. (The title of the sequel to this novel, "Five Hundred Years After", is a very obvious reference to "Twenty Years After" by Dumas.) The style is about as far removed from the laconical, witty tone of the Taltos novels.

I enjoyed reading this one more for the curiosity factor than for the actual quality of the novel. The plot is full of intrigue and action, and the characters are likeable enough, but the prose style simply becomes grating after a while. Recommended for Brust fans only.

The Phoenix Guards is a witty, skillfully-written novel chock full of adventure and intrigue. Author Steven Brust is a chameleon when it comes to writing styles, and the style most people compare this novel to is that of the old French romantics, and more specifically, that of Alexandre Dumas. While there are certainly stylistic similarities (Brust himself notes this in the afterword), The Phoenix Guards is not without a distinct style of its own, and this is one of many reasons why this novel is such a great read.

The plot is this: Khaavren of the House of Tiassa and three friends travel to Dragaera City to join the Phoenix Guards, an elite squad of highly-skilled guardsmen charged with protecting the Emperor and the interests of the Dragaeran Empire. No sooner have they joined the guard than they find themselves embroiled in a blossoming intrigue; it seems that the artist, Baroness Kathana e'Marish'Chala of Kaluma, has killed the Marquis of Pepperfield for insulting her latest masterpiece, causing the Emperor to order her arrest.

Khaavren, meanwhile, has fallen in love with a charming young woman named Illista, who reveals to him that the Baroness is her friend. Khaavren promises to find her and ensure her safety, which raises an interesting conflict because Khaavren, being a Phoenix Guard, has also sworn an oath to obey the Emperor. Thus, Khaavren and his friends set out to find the Baroness without knowing for sure whether they plan to arrest her or protect her. Meanwhile, certain high-ranking members of the Emperor's staff have other plans, and the four friends find themselves ambushed at every turn.

One of the reasons I like Steven Brust so much is that he has a flair for writing distinct characters. With some authors, it seems like every character is either a stereotype or a one-dimensional conglomeration of attributes, which results in everyone seeming like the same person. Brust's characters, on the other hand, seem real. Each character has a personality, a way of thinking, a style of speech, and good reasons for all of them.

In addition to the solid characters, this novel has a plot that just doesn't stop once it gets going. This was a book I didn't want to put down, and when I finally did have to put it down, I spent most of the time that I wasn't reading it wishing that I was.

In short: read it.

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