Swash-buckling action, romance, and political intrigue, Steven Brust’s The Khaavren Romances offers an epic spin to the d’Artagnan Romances by Alexandre Dumas, reimagining the French classic in the fictional world of Dragaera.
The Khaavren Romances has been compared to Game of Thrones in terms of complexity, but in our opinion, Brust’s work focuses more on the innate goodness of its characters and the heroic nature of people rather than GoT’s take on portraying everyone as deceitful and cunning.
The Khaavren Romances: A Brief Overview
The Khaavren Romances are written in the style of a historical novel, with the voice and persona of most of the books being written by Dragaeran novelist Paarfi of Roundwood. True to its d’Artagnan-esque roots, Paarfi writes in a very tongue-in-cheek style that borders on a parody of Dumas. Still, Brust manages to capture the French maestro’s sense of swashbuckling adventure, with a heavy dose of longwinded (but entertaining) tangents.
As an homage to the French classics, the Khaavren Romances rely heavily on using the d’Artagnan romances as inspiration, with the first five books in the series closely resembling The Three Musketeers in terms of style, tone, and sense of adventure. Meanwhile, the 2020 book The Baron of Magister Valley relies on The Count of Monte Cristo as its main inspiration.
The Khaavren Romances: Cast of Characters
The heroes of the Khaavren Romances are all patterned after Dumas’ characters in the d’Artagnan romances, with each of the Musketeers embodying a particular royal House in the Draegaran Empire.
- Khaavren – the titular character and hero of the series, Khaavren is a nobleman from Tiassa. Khaavren is a born adventurer, seeking out action and excitement wherever he goes. Friendly, sharp, and prone to bouts of genius, Khaavren embodies the spirit of adventure. Despite his youthful aura, Khaavren is also known for his strict military discipline and his surprising sense of authority and command. As the direct counterpart of d’Artagnan himself, Khaavren wields a slender sword with grace and ease, a skill he mastered from the best instructors in Tiassa.
- Aerich – A direct counterpart to the musketeer Athos, Aerich is an aristocrat from Lyorn and is the physical and spiritual embodiment of what it is to be a nobleman: traditional, prim, proper, and with a very strict code of morals and ethics, Aerich holds himself to the highest possible standards of what it means to be a gentleman. Although he can come across as stuffy, this only belies his martial prowess, with Aerich being an expert in Lyorn’s impressive defensive style of fighting which utilizes vambraces as both shield and weapon.
- Tazendra – A gender-bent version of Porthos, Tazendra is an aristocrat from Dzur who embodies her French inspiration’s love for combat and martial glory. Wielding a hand-and-a-half sword as her main weapon, her reckless enthusiasm for battle belies her nature as a serious warrior. Although portrayed as seeing the world in simple, black-and-white terms (with more complex and subtle situations needing to be explained to her by her friends), Tazendra is actually a powerful sorcerer, the only one who can wield magic among her friends.
- Pel – A landless nobleman from Yendi, Pel is overtly ambitions, fiendishly clever, and rakishly charming. However, his true intentions are, for the most part, hidden even to his closest friends, with Pel disarming people with his devilishly handsome appearance. Highly cerebral, lithe, and quick, Pel’s gentle façade belies his skills as a devastating duelist. He is the counterpart of Aramis from the d’Artagnan romances, and as such, is also known to have many female “friends” in high places, with Pel maintaining numerous contacts in the Jhereg Organization.
The Khaavren Romances: Style and Tone
As a play on the historical fiction genre, Brust utilizes the use of false documents and other literary devices to portray the story as ‘real’ events within the world of Dragaera. Within the context of the story, the Khaavren Romances are written by Paarfi of Roundwood, nobleman and historian from the House of the Hawk. Although presented as historical, Paarfi does inject a sense of action and drama within the historical documents he has read, considering that he never witnessed it first-hand.
Steven Brust, however, adds a level of meta-cheekiness by portraying himself as Paarfi’s English translator, with the two authors even interacting at the end of several Khaavren books, with Brust “interviewing” Paarfi in comedic fashion. Brust will often claim that he changed Paarfi’s original text in several ways to accommodate their translation into English.
This leads to hilarious conversations between the two, with Paarfi usually outraged by the changes, like when Brust claims to have changed many of the Dragaeran language’s use of gender-neutral pronouns to the generic male pronoun common in English, itself a tongue-in-cheek critique of how literary translations work in the real world.
Part meta-fiction, part historical novel, part romance, part adventure, the Khaavren Romance could be the next, big fantasy epic, and with more books slated for release in the future, it’s definitely something that should be in every bibliophile’s reading list.
Sure, it has less sex and death than Game of Thrones, but it makes up for it with wholesome romance, fast-paced action, wondrous adventure, and a heavy dose of humor and sarcasm.