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Steven Brust

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Steven Brust
Brust on drum at Cats Laughing reunion concert, April 2015
Brust on drum at Cats Laughing reunion concert, April 2015
BornSteven Karl Zoltán Brust
(1955-11-23) November 23, 1955 (age 68)
Saint Paul, Minnesota, U.S.[1]
  • Writer
  • musician
  • poker player
GenreFantasy, science fiction
Notable worksVlad Taltos series
Khaavren Romances

Steven Karl Zoltán Brust (born November 23, 1955) is an American fantasy and science fiction author of Hungarian descent. He is best known for his series of novels about the assassin Vlad Taltos, one of a disdained minority group of humans living on a world called Dragaera. His recent novels also include The Incrementalists (2013) and its sequel The Skill of Our Hands (2017), with co-author Skyler White.

As a drummer and singer-songwriter, Brust has recorded one solo album and two albums as a member of Cats Laughing. Brust also co-wrote songs on two albums recorded in the mid-1990s by the band Boiled in Lead.

Writing career[edit]

The Dragaeran books[edit]

The Vlad Taltos series, written as high fantasy with a science fiction underpinning,[2] is set on a planet called Dragaera.[3][4] The events of the series take place in an Empire mostly inhabited and ruled by the Dragaerans, a genetically engineered humanoid species,[5] having characteristics such as greatly extended lifespans and heights averaging about seven feet. Referred to as "elfs" by some humans, they refer to themselves as "human". The Dragaeran Empire controls a region that is "enclouded" by a perpetual overcast that blocks the sun from view.

Vlad Taltos is one of the human minority (known by Dragaerans as "Easterners"), which exists as a lower class in the Empire. Vlad also practices the human art of witchcraft; "táltos" is Hungarian for a kind of supernatural person in folklore. Though human, he is a citizen of the Empire because his social-climbing father bought a title in one of the less reputable of the 17 Dragaeran Great Houses. The only Great House that sells memberships this way is, not coincidentally, also the one that maintains a criminal organization. Vlad proves surprisingly successful in this organization. Despite being a human and a criminal, he has a number of high-ranking Dragaeran friends and often gets caught up in important events.

Brust has written 17 published novels in the series, which is proposed to run to nineteen novels – one named for each of the Great Houses, one named for Vlad himself (Taltos), and a final novel which Brust has said will be titled The Final Contract.[citation needed] The first three novels resemble private-eye detective stories, perhaps the closest being Robert B. Parker's Spenser series. The later novels are more varied than the first three. Though they read like fantasy, there are science-fictional explanations for some things.

Brust has also written another series set in Dragaera, the Khaavren Romances, set centuries before Vlad's time. Since Dragaerans live for thousands of years, many characters appear in both series. It is partly an homage to Alexandre Dumas père's novels about The Three Musketeers, and is five volumes long, following the pattern of Dumas' series. The books are presented as historical novels written by Paarfi of Roundwood, a Dragaeran roughly contemporary with Vlad. Paarfi's old-fashioned, elaborate, and highly verbose writing is explicitly based on Dumas', though with a dialogue style that is, at times, based on Tom Stoppard's wordgames in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (according to Pamela Dean's introduction to Five Hundred Years After). The Baron of Magister Valley, an additional Paarfi novel, is modeled after Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo.

The two series are finally brought together in the thirteenth novel in the Vlad series, Tiassa, which can also be viewed as the sixth novel in the Khaavren series. Tiassa comprises what are in effect three related novellas, each told in a different style and connected by a common theme. The first section reads like the first three novels in the series, with first-person narration by Vlad but including Khaavren's son, Piro; the second section has a different viewpoint character in each of its chapters; and the third section is narrated by Paarfi in the style of the earlier Khaavren Romances, with Khaavren as the viewpoint character and interacting with Vlad.

Short stories[edit]

Most of Brust's short stories are set in shared universes. These include Emma Bull's and Will Shetterly's Liavek, Robert Asprin's Thieves' World, Neil Gaiman's Sandman and Terri Windling's Borderland Series.

Style and literary theory[edit]

Brust was a founding member of a Minnesota-based writers' group called The Scribblies, which included Emma Bull, Pamela Dean, Will Shetterly, Nate Bucklin, Kara Dalkey, and Patricia Wrede. He also was a founding member of the Pre-Joycean Fellowship.

He has rejected a distinction between science fiction and fantasy, stating that no belief in such a distinction can withstand an encounter with the writing of Roger Zelazny.[6]

Writing style[edit]

There is a certain amount of variation in the writing style amongst the Taltos novels, as well as between Brust's various series. Brust uses a different narrative approach in almost every novel in the Taltos series. Some of these approaches are more purely stylistic and have minor effects on the actual story-telling; some are profound and involve the point of view of characters whom the reader never expected to get to know so well.

Further, as the writing of the Taltos novels has spanned over four decades, they have been influenced by events in Brust's own life. A fascination with the Mafia – subsequently brought into a somewhat shocking perspective by the murder of a friend – profoundly influenced his storylines, as did the breakup of his marriage. The events and arguments of his books, especially Teckla, are acknowledged by Brust to be influenced by his lifelong interest in Marxist theory and practice. Brust's parents were activists in the Workers League, the predecessor to the Socialist Equality Party, and he continues to identify as a "Trotskyist sympathizer," linking to the SEP-affiliated World Socialist Web Site on his personal website.[7][8] He endorsed the SEP's presidential candidates in the 2016 US elections.[9]

Literary theory[edit]

In contrast to contemporary academic studies in literature, Brust has put forward what he called "The Cool Stuff Theory of Literature":

All literature consists of whatever the writer thinks is cool. The reader will like the book to the degree that he agrees with the writer about what's cool. And that works all the way from the external trappings to the level of metaphor, subtext, and the way one uses words. In other words, I happen not to think that full-plate armor and great big honking greatswords are cool. I don't like 'em. I like cloaks and rapiers. So I write stories with a lot of cloaks and rapiers in 'em, 'cause that's cool. Guys who like military hardware, who think advanced military hardware is cool, are not gonna jump all over my books, because they have other ideas about what's cool.[10]

Brust elaborated, "The novel should be understood as a structure built to accommodate the greatest possible amount of cool stuff."[7]


The character Devera, usually a cute brown-eyed girl of about nine, appears as a motif in all of Brust's novels. In the Dragaeran books, her name is Devera. She is the (future) daughter of another character and seems to be able to appear anywhere in time and space. In Brust's non-Dragaeran books her appearances are usually brief and not always obvious.

Musical recordings and performances[edit]

Brust is a singer-songwriter and drummer who has recorded a solo album, and who has played in the Minneapolis-based folk rock band Cats Laughing, and with the Albany Free Traders,[11] and Morrigan.

Brust also co-wrote two songs on the 1994 album Antler Dance by the band Boiled in Lead (BiL), as well as many of the songs on BiL's 1995 multimedia CD Songs from The Gypsy.

Cats Laughing[edit]

Cats Laughing released two albums with Brust as the drummer, in 1988 and 1990. Brust also contributed as a songwriter and vocalist. The 1990 album Another Way to Travel features cover art that depicts the band members and a vehicle known as the Catmobile, the band vehicle for Cats Laughing. The car, owned by Brust, was a Cadillac ambulance, painted yellow, light blue, and dark blue, with murals.

On April 3, 2015, Brust performed as part of Cats Laughing in a reunion concert at the Minicon 50 science fiction convention in Bloomington, Minnesota.[12][13] In March 2016, Cats Laughing released a double CD of their 2015 reunion, A Long Time Gone, as well as a DVD by the same title with documentary concert footage.


A Rose for Iconoclastes, a folk (or folk pop) album released in 1993, is Brust's only solo album.[14] The title is a reference to "A Rose for Ecclesiastes", a short story by Brust's literary hero and mentor Roger Zelazny.[15]

Twelve of the fourteen songs were written or co-written by Brust. The album was produced by Adam Stemple, a fellow fantasy writer and member of Cats Laughing.

Songs from The Gypsy (1995)[edit]

Boiled in Lead: Songs from The Gypsy
Review scores

The 1995 enhanced CD Songs from The Gypsy, by the band Boiled in Lead, featured songs written by Brust and Adam Stemple, as well as the full text of Brust's novel The Gypsy.[7]

AllMusic reviewer Steven McDonald called Songs from The Gypsy "an example of Brust's serious songwriting working well."[17]

Conversely, a critical review by AllMusic's Roch Parisien emphasized that "Songs from The Gypsy represents a failure of multimedia integration. As an audio CD, the disc serves up ten songs, ranging from acoustic trad to bluesy rockers, that ironically form a less cohesive whole than previous Boiled in Lead releases. The better numbers (like the title track) incorporate Celtic rock with Hungarian, Middle Eastern, and other interesting worldbeat influences."[16] Parisien found the album's integration with the novel unsuccessful, in that the novel's 17 chapters were presented as "scrollable text only, which also intersperse some 80 song lyric excerpts that you can play from hot buttons. Annoyingly, you must flip back to the main menu index to move from one chapter to the next."[16] Parisien concluded, "Despite Brust's engrossingly poetic, impressionist story inspired by Hungarian folk tales and revolving around three Gypsy brothers, the project does not overcome the primary limitation of bringing literature to the computer screen, that being that the computer offers an inhospitable environment for viewing literature-length text."[16] The review, written in 1995, predated a wave of popular e-book readers that began to emerge about ten years later.

Other performances[edit]

Brust has performed dramatically in several Shockwave Radio Theater productions, notably Closing Ceremonies (aka The Fall of the House of Usherette) and PBS Liavek.[18]

Award nominations[edit]

Brust's short story "When The Bow Breaks" was nominated for the 1998 Nebula Award.[19]

Five Hundred Years After was nominated for the 1995 Locus Poll Award (Best Fantasy Novel). Other novels nominated for various Locus Poll Awards were Brokedown Palace, The Gypsy, Agyar, and Freedom & Necessity.[20]

Dragon was a finalist for the 1999 Minnesota Book Awards in the Fantasy & Science Fiction category.[21] Freedom and Necessity was a 1998 finalist for the same category,[22] while The Phoenix Guards was a finalist in 1992.[23]

Brust discovered in August 2006 that he had made the New York Times extended bestseller list at number 30 with Dzur. He mentioned his ambivalence on this subject online.[24] SciFi Wire posted an interview with Brust after Dzur came out.[25]


Brust's novels have been translated into numerous languages, including Bulgarian, Czech, Dutch, Estonian, French, German, Hebrew, Polish, Russian, and Spanish.[citation needed]


There are two series set in the world of Dragaera, the Khaavren Romances and the Vlad Taltos novels. They are set in different periods in the world, but some characters are common to both series.

Standalone Dragaera novel[edit]

Paarfi's historical romances[edit]

A series of Dragaeran historical romances, which take place centuries earlier than the Vlad Taltos novels, was written in the narrative voice of Paarfi of Roundwood, a Dragaeran historian. Paarfi describes these novels as works of history written for a popular audience, and published with great success during the reigns of Empresses Zerika IV and Norathar II.

  • The Khaavren Romances consist of three works, published as five books. The third and longest work, Paarfi's account of the Interregnum titled The Viscount of Adrilankha, was published in three volumes as individually-titled books.
  1. The Phoenix Guards (1991)
  2. Five Hundred Years After (1994)
  3. The Paths of the Dead (2002) – Vol. 1 of The Viscount of Adrilankha
  4. The Lord of Castle Black (2003) – Vol. 2 of The Viscount of Adrilankha
  5. Sethra Lavode (2004) – Vol. 3 of The Viscount of Adrilankha

Vlad Taltos[edit]

There are currently 17 novels in the series, with a total of 19 planned. The 18th planned novel will be named after the remaining Dragaeran Great House, Chreotha, and the concluding book The Final Contract.

  1. Jhereg (1983)
  2. Yendi (1984)
  3. Teckla (1987)
  4. Taltos (1988)
  5. Phoenix (1990)
  6. Athyra (1993)
  7. Orca (1996)
  8. Dragon (1998)
  9. Issola (2001)
  10. Dzur (2006)
  11. Jhegaala (2008)
  12. Iorich (2010)
  13. Tiassa (2011)
  14. Hawk (2014)
  15. Vallista (2017)
  16. Tsalmoth (2023)
  17. Lyorn (2024)
Short Stories[edit]
  • "A Dream of Passion" (1986) – published by the Ad Astra science fiction convention in its 1986 chapbook (non-canon sequel)
  • "Klava with Honey" (2005) – a prologue to Dzur, published by the Buffalo Fantasy League in EerieCon Chapbook #4
  • "The Desecrator" (2011) – published online by Tor Books[26]
In in-series chronological order[edit]
  1. "The Desecrator" (2011)
  2. Jhereg, prologue (1983)
  3. Taltos (1988)
  4. Dragon, main chapters (1998)
  5. Yendi (1984)
  6. Dragon, interludes (1998)
  7. Tiassa, section 1: Tag (2011)
  8. Tsalmoth (2023)
  9. Jhereg, main chapters (1983)
  10. Teckla (1987)
  11. Phoenix (1990)
  12. Jhegaala (2008)
  13. Athyra (1993)
  14. Orca (1996)
  15. Issola (2001)
  16. "Klava with Honey" (2005) – a prologue to Dzur, published by the Buffalo Fantasy League in EerieCon Chapbook #4
  17. Dzur (2006)
  18. Tiassa, section 2: Whitecrest (2011)
  19. Iorich (2010)
  20. Tiassa, section 3: Special Tasks (2011)
  21. Vallista (2017)
  22. Hawk (2014)
  23. Tsalmoth, epilogue (2023)
  24. Lyorn (2024)
  1. The Book of Jhereg (contains Jhereg, Yendi and Teckla)
  2. The Book of Taltos (contains Taltos and Phoenix)
  3. The Book of Athyra (contains Athyra and Orca)
  4. Dragon & Issola (contains Dragon and IssolaScience Fiction Book Club edition, hardcover)
  5. The Book of Dragon (contains Dragon and Issola – Tor paperback)
  6. The Book of Dzur (contains Dzur and Jhegaala)

The Incrementalists[edit]


Short fiction[edit]

  • "Fireworks in the Rain" (2013) – (by Brust only), published online by Tor Books[29]
  • "Strongest Conjuration" (2014) – (by White only), set directly after the events of The Incrementalists, published online by Tor Books[30]
  • "Playing God" (2017) – by Brust only, featuring Roger Zelazny's character Francis Sandow, in Shadows and Reflections: A Roger Zelazny Tribute Anthology (edited by Trent Zelazny and Warren Lapine)

Other novels[edit]

Other short stories[edit]

Introductions by Brust[edit]

  • In 1987, Tor Books published the gamebook Dzurlord (A Crossroads Adventure in the World of Steven Brust's Jhereg). Brust wrote the introduction for this book, which introduced readers to the world of Dragaera and its inhabitants.
  • Tor also published The Three Musketeers in paperback in 1994. Brust introduced the edition, saying that this translation (anonymous, originally published in 1888) was his favorite.
  • Brust contributed the introduction for Manna from Heaven. Wildside Press published this collection of stories from Roger Zelazny in 2003.


Brust playing poker at the annual 4th Street Fantasy Convention in Minneapolis, 2012

References in other media[edit]

  • Brust's book Dragon is the subject of an argument in the webcomic Penny Arcade.[34] Cartoonist Jerry Holkins later noted that the comic was based on an actual conversation about Brust's work at a convention.[35]
  • Brust's band, Cats Laughing, appears in issue No. 5 of a Marvel comic book called Excalibur. Brust is the only member of the band who is both seen onstage and named. Emma Bull also appears, but names everyone in the band except herself.[36] Brust was seen again in a one-shot special issue, Excalibur: Mojo Mayhem,[37] in which the mutant superhero Shadowcat attends a Cats Laughing concert in Edinburgh and mentions previously having seen the band at Windycon.

Book title nicknames[edit]

Brust is known for his propensity to give his books alternate titles for his own amusement. These have cropped up in numerous interviews and online forums, starting with "Jarhead" for Jhereg.[38] Examples include:

Brust does not have nicknames for collaborations out of respect for his collaborators, stating "It's one thing to not want to take myself seriously, and another thing to—I want to take them seriously."[38]


  1. ^ May, Hal; Trosky, Susan M. (April 15, 1988). Contemporary Authors: A Bio-Bibliographical Guide to Current Writers in Fiction, General Nonfiction, Poetry, Journalism, Drama, Motion Pictures, Television. Gale. p. 72. ISBN 9780810319233.
  2. ^ Walton, Jo (November 16, 2009). "Playing the angles on a world: Steven Brust's Dragaera". Tor.com. Macmillan. Archived from the original on November 1, 2015.
  3. ^ Wolf, Mark J.P. (2014). Building Imaginary Worlds: The Theory and History of Subcreation. Routledge. p. 335. ISBN 978-1136220814.
  4. ^ Newell, Bryan (2011). "Chapter 2 – Methods and Assumptions". Mapping Dragaera. Archived from the original on January 5, 2016.
  5. ^ Brust, Steven (1999). The Book of Jhereg. Penguin. p. 92. ISBN 1101665734. Jenoine ... once used the Dragaeran race (and, I might add, the Easterners) as stock to practice genetic experimentation.... [T]here are theories which claim that Easterners aren't native to Dragaera at all, but were brought in by the Jenoine from somewhere else to use as controls for their tests.
  6. ^ Brust, Steven (February 29, 2016). "No belief in a distinction between science fiction and fantasy can withstand an encounter with Zelazny. #justsaying". Steven Brust on Twitter. Twitter.com. Archived from the original on March 9, 2016.
  7. ^ a b c Olson, Chris (February 3, 2003). "Interview: Steven Brust". Strange Horizons. Archived from the original on October 8, 2013. Retrieved December 29, 2012.
  8. ^ Brust, Steven (August 30, 2012). "About". Dream Cafe.
  9. ^ "Author Steven Brust replies to petition of writers against Trump". May 30, 2016.
  10. ^ a b Walton, Jo (January 20, 2010). "A conversation with Steven Brust about writing the Dragaera books". Tor.com. Tor Books. Archived from the original on August 24, 2013.
  11. ^ "A short visual trip down musical memory lane" (Albany Free Traders publicity flyer) Archived February 11, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. Geri Sullivan blog. February 1, 2007. Retrieved December 29, 2012.
  12. ^ "Minicon 50 – The Gold Edition". Archived from the original on November 16, 2014.
  13. ^ "A Long Time Gone". Beyond Conventions. Archived from the original on November 16, 2014. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  14. ^ Brust, Steven (1993). A Rose for Iconoclastes (CD). Beer & Pizza, Inc. (BMI). ASIN B000R9RCQY.
  15. ^ Martini, Adrienne (May 2004). "An Interview With Steven Brust". Bookslut. Archived from the original on March 19, 2022. Retrieved June 7, 2014. (Interview in which Brust notes that a picture of Zelazny is on his desk.)
  16. ^ a b c d Parisien, Roch. Songs from the Gypsy review at AllMusic. Retrieved April 2, 2014.
  17. ^ McDonald, Steven. A Rose for Iconoclastes review at AllMusic. Retrieved April 2, 2014.
  18. ^ "Annotation of Shockwave Silver". Dave Romm. Archived from the original on February 5, 2012. Retrieved July 12, 2016.
  19. ^ "1999 Nebula Final Ballot" Archived November 28, 1999, at the Wayback Machine. DPS Info AwardWeb. Retrieved December 29, 2012.
  20. ^ "Index of Literary Nominees". Locus Index of Science Fiction Awards. LocusMag.com. Retrieved December 29, 2012. Archived October 16, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ "MBA Winners 1999" Archived December 28, 2011, at the Wayback Machine Minnesota Book Awards Past Finalists and Winners - 1999
  22. ^ "MBA Winners 1998" Archived December 28, 2011, at the Wayback Machine Minnesota Book Awards Past Finalists and Winners - 1998
  23. ^ "MBA Winners 1992" Archived April 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine Minnesota Book Awards Past Finalists and Winners - 1992
  24. ^ Brust, Steven. "I have a new first name". A Bland and Deadly Courtesy (blog). LiveJournal. Retrieved December 29, 2012.
  25. ^ "Dzur Is A Savory Meal". SciFi Wire (scifi.com). August 24, 2006. Archived from the original on November 14, 2007. Retrieved December 29, 2012.
  26. ^ Brust, Steven (March 2, 2011). "The Desecrator". Tor.com
  27. ^ "Forthcoming Books". Locus Online. Archived from the original on January 14, 2013. Retrieved December 29, 2012.
  28. ^ "The Incrementalists" (Official book website for The Incrementalists).
  29. ^ Brust, Steven (September 5, 2013). "Fireworks in the Rain". Tor.com
  30. ^ White, Skyler (August 26, 2014). "Strongest Conjuration". Tor.com
  31. ^ Brust, Steven (2008). My Own Kind of Freedom. Self-published under CC BY-NC-ND license. Retrieved December 29, 2012.
  32. ^ Doctorow, Cory (February 18, 2008). "Steven Brust's unauthorized Firefly fanfic novel". Boing Boing. Archived from the original on February 19, 2016.
  33. ^ Brust, Steven [@StevenBrust] (February 11, 2019). "PEOPLE!!! Dreamforge Magazine is out in hard copy!!! With a story by Skyler and me..." (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  34. ^ Brahe, Tycho (June 14, 2006). "Fine Distinctions". Penny Arcade (comic).
  35. ^ Brahe, Tycho (June 14, 2006). "Fine Distinctions". Penny Arcade (news post).
  36. ^ "Steven Who?". Tenser Said the Tensor blog. August 15, 2006. Retrieved December 29, 2012.
  37. ^ Claremont, Chris; Adams, Arthur (1989). Excalibur: Mojo Mayhem. Marvel. ISBN 9780871356253.
  38. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Robinson, Tasha (2002). "Steven Brust doesn't take himself seriously--but his readers do". Science Fiction Weekly (scifi.com). Archived from the original on January 26, 2002. Retrieved December 29, 2012.
  39. ^ Dyer-Bennet, David (2012). "Book Note: Steven Brust, Jhegaala (#2)". Ouroboros: DD-B's Booknotes.

External links[edit]