Steven Brust has got his groove back. After the novella structure of Jhegaala, he returns to Vlad, our favorite ex-crimelord who appears to have become a hero over the years, although Vlad would be the first to disagree. Despite being on the run from assassins, he returns to the city of his birth to investigate why the Empire would be pressing sorcery charges against his friend Aliera, especially as Aliera is close friends with the next heiress to the crown. Aliera doesn't want him there, and refuses to speak to him. The syndicate he betrayed doesn't want him there, and wants his blood. His lizard familiar thinks he's courting death by being there, and yet Vlad insists on lurking around the palace, asking questions, and roughing up a witness or two. He even hires an advocate (gasp!)Iorich is a little faster than early Vlad novels, a lot less detailed, but at the core, this is the writing and storytelling that sends shivers of anticipation down my spine when I see a Brust book. His world is inventive, a delicious mix of mafia-style crime, race relations (human and Dragaeran), three different magical styles, gods versus... um, non-gods, and wonderfully developed characters. Plot continues to be twisty, and Vlad and the lizard are full of smart-ass remarks. Some meals are devoured, although not prepared nor described with the loving detail seen in earlier Vlad novels. There's violence--a given, knowing Vlad--and a tentative re-connection with Cawti, Vlad's estranged ex-wife.It's a solid three and a half stars, but I'm rounding up because I feel the series deserves more recognition than it gets, and Brust is a writer I respect. I even have a new writing geek fantasy--to attend the writers convention he helps organize in Minneapolis this year.If you like smart fantasy worlds and want a leap up from the usual sword and sorcery, it's worth giving this series a try. Start with Jhereg, one of my favorites.