There hasn’t been a bad book in the loosely interconnected Ethshar novels but this was ultimately probably the least of them. Not that it didn’t have the usual curious blend of grounded reality and well thought-out fantasy that Lawrence Watt-Evans is so fascinatingly good at. Very few others ever bother to try to inject what feels like common sense and casual/everyday elements into their otherwise fantastical stories. There’s always something very human, work-a-day, and lived-in about the logic of the characters and the setting of the story – they do things, think things, and experience things that don’t tend to fit into the standard fantasy mold. For example, in Vondish Ambassador, the simple passage in the book goes into about whether or not city guards should carry swords vs. truncheons… or if horses should be used to haul carts in cities vs. oxen. In other hands, this wouldn’t work but Watt-Evans managed to make it interesting… and surprising in a, “hey, every other fantasy novel does it THIS way and he does it THAT way… that’s interesting” kind of way.
All that said, Vondish Ambassador kind of gets weighted down by the history and geography of Ethshar of the Spices. It’s great early on but as the story and the mystery continues to unfold, these asides start to get in the way of the pace of the story and it started to lose my interest. That’s the point of the three stars on this. I won’t say it was a slog because his stories are always better than that, but it wasn’t as fascinating in its final third as it could have been.
Still, a recommendation for anyone who likes the previous nine books or anything else he’s written… and for anyone else who hasn’t read the other books, get to it. Maybe by the time you get to book 10, you won’t mind my nitpicks.