Vallista is the fifteenth book in Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos series, set in the fantasy world of Dragaera. It was released October 17, 2017. Following the trend of the series, it is named after one of the Great Houses, and the personality characteristics associated with that House are integral to its plot.
Takes place Immediately before the events of Hawk. Vlad is staying with a family friend in Adrilankha, buying a sausage, and is suddenly found by Devera, who begs him to follow her, as she needs help. She leads him to a mysterious manor on the shore of the ocean-sea near Kieron's Watch which he is certain was not there the last time he was out that way. Once he enters, she vanishes and the door locks firmly behind him.
In the spooky traditions of the Gothic Romance, Vlad finds himself in a large manor full of mirrors with secret passages, physics-defying geometry, an unused kitchen that nonetheless serves fresh hot meals, a ghost, some servants, a demon, a monster, and a grumpy old dude. There is a deathly scream and a retreating monster and nobody will acknowledge they've heard or seen either. And there's no way out but by solving the mystery.
There are tributes throughout to the Gothic novel. All the chapter headings are puns on well-known stories of the genre, and the opening and closing chapter each begin with a creatively mangled quotation: the first from Austen, the last from Charlotte Bronte.
Vlad, Loiosh and Rocza explore, picking locks as necessary, and chatting with whoever they find, including the vanishing ghost of Tethia, who claims to have designed the mansion. Their information gathering is hindered by the reluctance of Harro the butler, Odelpho the nurse, and Discaru the consulting wizard to reveal what they obviously (probably) know. The lord of the manor, Lord Zhayin, claims to be the builder but will not tell him anything either, sending for the butler to have Vlad ejected. In this enterprise, Harro fails, since the house is sealed off.
Unable to leave, Vlad encounters an Issola dancer in a love triangle with two servants, complicated by the prohibition against mixed-House relationships.
Eventually encountering the hidden monster and finding himself in danger, he is rescued by Discaru, with whom he takes turns asking and answering questions. Discaru tells him that the manor's mysterious properties are tied to the timeless Halls of Judgement, and takes Vlad there to explain in more detail.
In the Halls, Vlad observes the fountains of memory used by the Purple Robes to regain their lost memories, and spends time regaining some of his own lost memories. Challenging the fountains to help him with the mystery of the manor, he finds himself recalling his own past lives and deaths as Dragaerans of various Houses, and each time dying with that House's key to the Paths of the Dead. He learns that a dying Hawk needs a specific signet ring, a Tiassa a tattooed arm, a Dragon a memorized guidebook, and a Jhereg a medallion, to successfully navigate the Paths and make it to the Halls.
He also spends some time as his very early self Dolivar, led by Devera to Verra's halls. Verra tells him in some detail (though he understands nothing) of her plans for Dragaera, her reasons for them, and her agents, being Devera (working from without) and Dolivar and his descendants, working from within. Verra is disturbed at the cultural stasis experiment worked by the Jenoine on Dragaera, and plans to disrupt it, allowing Dragaerans to develop naturally, eventually. She promises that her plan will both begin and end with the creation of Amorphia, and that Dolivar will be there for the end.
Vlad finds himself trapped by Discaru in the Halls, but is unexpectedly rescued by The Warlock who forces Discaru to bring him back to the manor. After a visit to the courtyard which is somehow a gateway to a past century, and an unexpected visit to Verra's halls (again, but as himself), Vlad finally starts putting together the lies and evasions and clues, and goes round talking again to the manor's occupants (including Tethia's ghost and Devera) to confirm his guesses. Then he goes about trying to set things right.
The solution involves helping the starcrossed lovers, learning how to unseal the manor, and killing those that most need killing.
Role of the House
Vallista, the house, is about destruction and building. The Vallistas of the title are the manor's builders, Lord Zhayin and his daughter, and their magnum opus is the manor itself.
Vlad is, as usual, solving a mystery. He must do it by, as the book sections point out, analyzing and then synthesizing -- breaking down the manor's mysteries into digestible bits, then putting the results back together in some kind of order. In this way, he too is doing the destruction and building characteristic of a Vallista.
Not all are obvious, so to have them all online somewhere:
1. Devera the Wanderer (Melmoth the Wanderer, by Charles Maturin)
2. The Mystery of Elven Food (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, by Charles Dickens)
3. The Phantom of the Dance (The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux)
4. The Legend of Sleepy Harro (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving)
5. At the Fountains of Sadness (At the Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft)
6. In the Past Darkly (In a Glass Darkly, by Sheridan Le Fanu)
7. The Turn of Discaru (The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James)
8. Withering Depths (Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë)
9. The Miseries of Odelpho (The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe)
10. Waters Below the Ground (Airs Above the Ground, by Mary Stewart)
11. Gormin’s Guest (Gormenghast, by Mervyn Peake)
12. The River at Housetown (The House at Riverton, by Kate Morton)
13. The Star of the Seven Jewels (The Jewel of Seven Stars, by Bram Stoker)
14. A Short Fatal Hate Chase (A Long Fatal Love Chase, by Louisa May Alcott)
15. This Smooth Magic (This Rough Magic, by Mary Stewart),
16. On the Night of the Surly Mood (On the Night of the Seventh Moon, by Victoria Holt)
17. Zhayin’s Heir (Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë)