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The Phoenix Guards by Steven Brust
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The Phoenix Guards (original 1991; edition 1992)

by Steven Brust

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1,420225,321 (3.98)64
Member:cclaya
Title:The Phoenix Guards
Authors:Steven Brust
Info:Tor Books (1992), Mass Market Paperback, 512 pages
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The Phoenix Guards by Steven Brust (1991)

  1. 83
    The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (paintingfire, lorax)
    paintingfire: Brust was inspired by the French Romantics, and Dumas in particular. If you enjoyed "The Phoenix Guards", and you've never read "The Three Musketeers", you should give it a try!
  2. 00
    Kings Cavalier (rooftoplogic)
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The Phoenix Guards is a story of adventure, intrigue and honour, about a group of new friends who join the Phoenix Guards together. They set forth on a mission, and along the way are waylaid by people charged with preventing them from achieving their goal, with some surprising results.

This is set in the same world as the Vlad Taltos books, but written in a very different style: the story is narrated by Paarfi, an historian writing about events a thousand years ago. I haven’t read The Three Musketeers so I can’t comment on the ways in which The Phoenix Guards does, or doesn’t, echo that, but I’ve seen is described as “Dumas pastiche”.

I found Paarfi’s style amusing, occasionally delightful and occasionally tedious. His omniscient narration meant it took me most of the book to really warm to the characters - it wasn’t until I had seen how they responded to a variety of challenges that I felt like I knew them in more than a superficial way.

Given how long I took to finish The Phoenix Guards (I spent all year reading bits of it in between other books), I had concluded that I wouldn’t read the sequel. But now that I’ve finished The Phoenix Guards - satisfied with the way the pieces of the story came together and curious about what happens next to these characters - I think I might.

Khaavren said, “My lord, we are prepared to assume our duties.”
“That is well,” said the Captain. “Are you aware of what these duties consist?”
“No, my lord,” said Khaavren frankly.
“But we hope to learn,” said Aerich with a slight bow.
“Then I will tell you,” said G’aereth. “There remain two more days of festivities in the city. Those who enjoy these festivities may, in their enthusiasm, become a menace to the other more restrained citizens. It falls upon us, then, to make certain there are no, or at least few, needless injuries. We must also strive to our utmost to see that the dueling code is upheld.”
They nodded.
“Very well,” said the Captain, “you are to enforce the laws of the Empire.”
“And what laws are these, Captain?” asked Aerich.
“Heh,” said G’aereth. “Use your judgement. If it looks illegal, then it probably is.”


My favourite of the chapter titles was Chapter the Eleventh: In Which the Plot, Behaving in Much the Manner Of a Soup to which Corn Starch Has been Added, Begins, at Last, to Thicken. ( )
  Herenya | Jan 1, 2018 |
The Phoenix Guards is set a thousand years before the events of Jhereg and is a pastiche of Dumas’s The Three Musketeers. Four noble friends join the Phoenix Guards and become caught up in ongoing plots and conspiracies of the court.

The Phoenix Guards is written with a framing device where it is the account of a historian living sometime after the setting of the story. The style also adheres to Dumas, and it seemed similar to what I remember from reading The Count of Monte Cristo. However, I do not think the style will work for everyone. The sentences are long and windy, and the writing borders on ponderous at times. I found the use of the style and framing device interesting, but I also thought it hampered the pacing of the novel by slowing everything down. At times I felt like I was skimming to get through the prose. I should probably reread The Count of Monte Cristo and see if I have the same reaction to Dumas’s writing.

The protagonist of The Phoenix Guards is Khaavren of the House of Tiassa, a young man from a defunct noble house who wants to make a living by joining the Phoenix Guard, the imperial guards who serve in the capital of the empire. Shortly into his journey to the capital, he befriends two other adventurers who also decide to join the guard: Tazendra, an impetuous and warlike noblewoman, and Aerich, a quiet and thoughtful nobleman. Later on, they are joined by the mysterious Pel. None of the characters were particularly memorable, but they were all distinct from each other and had defining personality traits. However, they don’t have much depth beyond those defining traits.

The plot takes a long time to show up. Eventually, it becomes clear that there is a series of conspiracies in court revolving around a famed artist who outside the boundaries of a duel kills a duke who criticized her masterpiece. Various fractions in court have different plans for her, and Khaavren becomes involved at the behest of a lovely lady.

I found it a bit jarring how casually people died and killed each other, but if I remember correctly from the Vlad Taltos novels, resurrection is a common practice in the Dragaeran Empire. The Empire also has a very distinct social structure comprising of many different houses. Thankfully, I was already familiar with it from Jhereg, but I don’t doubt that it would be confusing for someone new to the world.

In the end, I found The Phoenix Guards entertaining enough. I think a lot of people will either love it or hate it, depending on how they react to the writing style. If you are a big fan of Alexandre Dumas, you’ll probably get a big kick out of it. You’d probably also enjoy it if you love the Vlad Taltos novels and want to know more about the backstory of the world.

Originally posted on The Illustrated Page. ( )
  pwaites | Dec 14, 2015 |
Young Khaavren is a gentleman, a Tiassa, who has neither land nor titles but who dreams of making a glorious name for himself in the service of the Empire. Heading to the city in order to join the Emperor's elite force of Phoenix Guards, he falls into company with three similarly ambitious young people: a proud, belligerent Dzur named Tazendra; a discreet, contemplative Lyorn called Aerich; and an elegant, chivalrous Yendi called Pel. When these four are sworn into the Red Boot Battalion of the Phoenix Guard, they become firm friends, sworn to protect the good of the Empire and, more importantly, one another. Even for naive, good-hearted young people, it isn't an easy time to be in the city. The Imperial Court is rife with the machinations of favourites, and courtiers struggling to promote their own interests; the Emperor's chief adviser is pulling strings to advance her own questionable ambitions; and the young Emperor himself is still unable to take the strong decisions needed to consolidate his reign. Love, danger and duels are to be found around every corner. And innocent young Khaavren is about to find himself pulled right into the eye of the storm; when, falling in love with a beautiful lady he chances to meet in a carriage, he swears to do all that he can to defend and support her. Little does he know that this will lead him, and his three loyal friends, into the midst of the Court's most dangerous intrigues.

This might all sound faintly familiar, and it's meant to: this is a tongue-in-cheek and affectionate fantasy pastiche of The Three Musketeers, set in Brust's world of Dragaera. Having never read any of his books before, I was slightly at sea at the beginning; and for the similarly uninitiated I'd recommend a quick read of the Dragaera Wikipedia page to explain some of the background. But it's thoroughly enjoyable stuff. Brust writes with great wit, utilising a dual-level narrative in which the story is told by the pedantic historian Paarfi, with Brust lurking behind him in the authorial shadows, obviously enjoying himself immensely. Full of panache, affairs of honour and exquisitely polite adversaries, this is thoroughly recommended, either for those who already know the Vlad Taltos series, or for those who've stumbled across this from a more swashbuckling angle.

For a full review please see my blog:
http://theidlewoman.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/the-phoenix-guards-steven-brust.html ( )
  TheIdleWoman | Jan 6, 2014 |
This is the story, presented as a historical text written - purportedly, per the preface - by Sir Paarfi of Roundwood, of how Khaavren and his friends joined the Phoenix Guards and the adventures they had together at a point of interest in the history of the Dragaeran Empire. Although they are quite hot tempered, provoking duels or easily taking insult so they can fight duels, they also turn out to be excellent diplomats.

Full of dense prose (four hundred and ninety pages worth), this is a book to be savoured, not rushed. Brust explains in the afterword that he wanted to write in the style of Dumas, who was paid per word. While it is certainly entertaining (characters have a sort of archaic Shakespearean style of speech), and an interesting concept, it does make for slow reading. In the 25th chapter, for instance, in introducing a character (Kathana), it takes the supposed author / historian two pages to explain that he does intended to introduce the character, and not keep her 'off stage' for the entire text, before he actually introduces her. And then the 'two words' which would be enough to describe her turn into (only - for a wonder!) several sentences before he digresses in yet another direction.

I actually liked the device (even though I intended reading it quickly as it was overdue at the library) and I do see it might irritate some readers; I found it well written, consistent and funny, and the action (though not necessarily fast) is furious. I almost couldn't put it down, though I did need a few breaks to digest that much verbosity.

In the chapter after we meet Kathana:
... a sacrifice, if we may say so, to the god Brevity, whom all historians, indeed, all who work with the written word, ought to worship. We cannot say too little on this subject.
This having been stated, then, we will carry out our worship of the afore-mentioned god so far as to dwell no longer on explanations, but ....


I found the whole story amusing and read it with a smile on my face; in fact it made me chuckle out loud quite often.

Khaavren is preparing for a duel, with a friend as witness:
"I do not think this gentleman will give you much sport."
"You think not?"
"Well, you perceive how, in practicing, he strikes only at the air."
"That is not unusual, when preparing for a contest."
"No, and yet he seems to miss with every third stroke."


I like the conceit at the end, where, in the author's afterword, Stephen Brust explains his style of writing and that of the assumed author, Paarfi - and then there is a second afterword where Paarfi introduces us (disbelievingly) to Brust.

The only problem I had with the story was the different races; though human, they live for millennia, and are also members of distinct Houses (seemingly races) which are instantly identifiable to other characters, which puzzled me. I suspect that I was missing something by not having read other books in this universe. I picked this book up as the first in a series, and because the blurb on the back said it was about events that occurred a thousand years before Vlad Taltos; however, that should have been my warning.

Although there are class / race distinctions, with everyone slotting happily into their stereotypes, ladies do seem to be on an equal footing with men. Not only do they hold political positions on par with men (warlords, empresses), they sign up as soldiers with no distinction between the sexes, and enter into duels on their own behalves.

Recommended.

( )
1 vote humouress | Jan 17, 2013 |
A reread. Goodness, haven't you read this yet?

Alexander Dumas's Three Musketeers meet Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead in Stephen Brust's excellent fantasy-intrigue world, rolling trippingly off the tongue. ( )
  dknippling | Dec 16, 2011 |
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Rakeland, SamCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812506898, Mass Market Paperback)

A thousand years before the birth of Vlad Taltos, the Dragaeran Empire is a hotbed of intrigue, sorcery, intrigue, swashbuckling adventure, and intrigue. For those who would be heroes, it is a delightful time to be alive--and an easy place to die.

Khaavren of the House of Tiassa is a son of landless nobility, possessor of a good sword and "tolerably well acquainted with its use." Along with three loyal friends, he enthusiastically seeks out danger and excitement. But in a realm renowned for repartee and betrayals, where power is as mutable as magic, a young man like Khaavren, newly come from the countryside, had best be wary. His life depends on it. And so does the future of Dragaera.

When swordplay beckons, it's all for one--and one for...The Phoenix Guards.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:02 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Khaavren of the House of Tiassa is a son of landless nobility, possessor of a good sword and "tolerably well-acquainted with its use." Along with three loyal friends, he enthusiastically seeks out danger and excitement. But in a realm renowned for repartee and betrayals, where power is as mutable as magic, a young man like Khaavren, newly come from the countryside, had best be wary. His life depends on it. And so does the future of Draegara.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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