The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

The Phoenix Guards

The Phoenix Guards cover

My homage to Alexandre Dumas, one of my favorite writers. It is a blatant ripoff of The Three Musketeers. It all started when we were sitting around assigning people we knew to Dragaeran Great Houses, and I mentioned that a the archetypal Lyorn was Athos in Dumas’ work. Then I said, “Aramis is a Yendi, and Porthos is a Dzur, and…hmm. That’s interesting.” I really never expected this one to be published. I wrote it for the sheer joy of writing it—I giggled all the way through. No one was more surprised than me that, not only was it published, but a lot of other people seem to like it. Cool. Great cover, isn’t it?

Discussion Page


  1. This is the first of your books that I read. i was at a school book fair, and needed to find one more book to complete my order. I strolled around a bit, and saw this cover. I was completely sold immediately, and even though I was only 12 or 13, and didn’t fully understand what i was reading, I began gobbling up everything I could find with your name on it. You have been my favorite author ever since. Thank you for sharing what you find cool with the rest of us in book form.

  2. While I’ve yet to be disappointed in any of your books (& I’ve read them all multiple times), this one remains my favorite. When first reading it, I was immediately put in mind of the 2 excellent mid-1970s Musketeer films directed by Richard Lester & starring Oliver Reed & Faye Dunaway along with a thoroughly brilliant cast. If you’ve not seen them, you should certainly do so. You’ll see why I found The Phoenix Guards so evocative. Thank you for being the one certainty in an otherwise uncertain world. I can always count on being completely entertained with superior storytelling when picking up one of your books. Even when it’s a re-read. I look forward to Hawk with bated breath.

  3. Even though I have been reading your books since 1984, this was the first book of yours which I bought in hardcover when it was released. It is also the only book I’ve ever read which has the ability to make me want to “bang my fists, stomp my feet, roll on the floor, and laugh my fuckin’ ass off” each and every time I have read it. (maybe not quite roll on the floor, but close)

  4. Totally agree with Ty. The Phoenix Guards was the first of your books that I read. Found it at a 6th grade book fair, and while the language and style of speech made it initially difficult for me to read, it none the less became one of my favorite books. It left me hungry for more,which eventually led me to Vlad. The rest is history. I still claim these works are my favorite series of fantasy literature.

  5. I’m about to loan this to a friend, because memory of “Paarfi of Roundwood is the creation of a writer who, at first, wished that the style of the French Romantics (Dumas, Sabatini, etc.) was still popular, then decided he didn’t care, and he’d blood well write like that, anyway”… recently inspired me. Recently: I’ve owned “The Phoenix Guards” since pretty much the time that it came out, and devoured it as soon as I’d bought it, as I did with the rest of The Khaavren Romances. I was already a fan of the Vlad Taltos books, and this was familiar, while appealing in a whole different way. So… it’s been quite a while between reading that sentence with gleeful appreciation, and getting inspired by memory of it, a few weeks ago.

    Inspired to “…bloody well write like that, anyway.” I am far from immune to the appeal of the style of the French Romantic originals, myself, and I think that the Paarfi take may, if anything, be even better. By loaning the book to this friend, I hope to inspire writing between (at least) the two of us, in just this vein.

    Not Fan-Fic. While I can think of far worse fates than hooking my friend on your work, I’m picturing us writing original stuff, purely for our own amusement, with no thought of publishing. You know, like you were thinking when writing :The Phoenix Guards” in the first place. 😉 I honestly don’t intend this for publication, or putting it out there on the web, though I’m willing to be surprised.

    Of course, setting the book aside to be loaned next time I see her, prompted me to re-read the first few chapters, in an odd moment. I’m about half-way through the book, now, and by the time I see her tomorrow night, I will certainly be done re-reading it. Yet again. 🙂 Because I laugh roaringly and thrill fiercely and inwardly cheer and bite my lip and grow agreeably melancholy and enjoy just as much now, as every other time. It’s the same with all the Romances, except that with “Sethra Lavode”, there’s also outright weeping by the end. Which is why I can’t read it as much, for all I love it. [And don’t even let me get started on the complex web of emotions I get from what I’ve read so far of Vlad’s saga!] So yes, a big part of this message is a “thank you”, on more than one level.

    Of course – and this, too, is a very important part of this message – there is something I need your help with. It’s not about writing French Romantic style. It’s one part of this book that I go thoroughly crazy over. As in, I have enough actual Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder to prevent me from letting this go, until the point at which I forcibly throw it from my thoughts by sheer willpower.

    In two words, it is this: the references, attached to the conspiracy our heroes find themselves arrayed against, to the candlebud flower of Khaarvren’s (and Tazendra’s?) native Sorranah… to my mind, are never made explicit enough, nor even present enough information the reader can reason from, to allow what the candlebud means, represents, signifies, implies, or what use it has, to the conspiracy, to become clear. Nor is the flower ever mentioned – in this context – in **any** of your books that I have read (I believe I have read the Vlad Series up to not only “Issola”, but “Dzur”). It is simply never explained.

    And the references in “The Phoenix Guards” are **so** provocative, that never learning what they are intended to mean, is truly maddening! To the likes of me, anyway. So please, sir, help out a devoted fan driven to distraction. Whether I’ve managed to miss the explanation, or it’s known only to you, please spell the answer out for me.

    I assure you that, should you do so, I shall be forever in your debt. 😉

  6. skzb

    Thanks for all the kind words. As for the candlebud, well, anyone want to take a crack at it?

  7. i think I know, but it has been so long since I read the books that I suspect my guess would go wrong. Honestly, I don’t remember any of those scenes in which candlebud appears :/

    But suffice to say, the Consort likes Candlebud. Nylissa or whatver their names are…might they be the Emperor and his Consort? Or maybe Allistar and the Consort? And might the mention appear to them as a gentle hint by the Phoenix Guards that they are well aware of the identities of those who accompany them?

    These are just wild stabs in the dark, because as I said, I have no clue of the greater context of the passages any more. I will correct that forthwith 😛

    By the way: is the Duke of Threewalls so named because the Fourth Wall broke somehow? 🙂

    Don’t know what to think about Twicetied Hills though. Any guesses?

  8. I haven’t not gotten around to the Khaavren Romances yet, though they are on my agenda like a lot of other tomes. My wild guess would be a nod to Napoleon and violets.

  9. The discussion of candlebud (a small flower that “grows only on the eastern slope of a hill or valley and always near running water, though never too near. The stalk being pale green, and rising to the height of a man’s knee, producing (in the fall) small, purple berries, tart and full of juice with a remarkable color that is bright yellow in the morning, and changes, as the day grows older, to orange, and at last to a shining red and, when darkness is full, gives off a light of its own from the bud, so that there are whole valleys that shimmer in the night, and are so well lighted one can find the small paths left by the antelope and the tsalmoth) as can be seen in the quote below where our dear friends Khaavren (being as yet young but not too much so) has noticed something and yet Tazendra, equally dear, has noticed another feature and so leads us via an astute section of the dialogue as any true historian would note:
    “Speaking of eyes,” said Tazendra.
    “Well,” said Khaavren. “Speaking of eyes?”
    “Did you happen to notice the eyes of the gentleman, when he first opened them as we stopped here?”
    “No,” said Khaavren. “What of them?”
    “Well, when he first opened his eyes, I should have thought they were of a golden color, such as one sees in those of the House of the Phoenix, or in certain paintings rendered by artists who wish to show purity of character without concern for accuracy.”
    “Yet,” said Khaavren, “I had thought I perceived that his eyes were brown.”
    “Indeed yes,” said Tazendra. “That is why I was startled. And, to be sure, when I looked a second time, they did seem brown. And yet, at that same moment, I heard the sound emitted by my amulet when in the presence of sorcery.”
    “Well,” said Khaavren to Aerich, “what do you make of it?”
    “What do I make of it?” said the Lyorn. “Only this: any sorcerer can change the color of his eyes, and anyone can wear whatever clothing he chooses, and anyone can wear a wig, and anyone can wear a ring. But only a Phoenix can carry that air of majesty which I observe in both of them.”

  10. I do like that conversation above, where they all (Khaavren in his contribution just before the excerpt quoted) contribute to the deduction that their traveling companions are not what they pretend to be. Though it does phase me that, whenever the subject of that trip comes up later in the book, in spite of her having spoken of eyes at the time, Tazendra is continually astonished that such a deception could have taken place, right under nose, without her having a clue about it.

    I am only puzzled, Mr. Halter, in how you mean it to explain the conspiracies use of references to Candlebud.

  11. Christopher Hall:It’s an explanation via Paarfi channeling. 🙂

  12. *Chuckle* All right, so far a lot of interesting ideas, yet none that satisfy my compulsiveness. Skzb, should I take it from your silence that you intend to illuminate the issue – as candlebuds illuminate the valleys of Sorranah on Spring nights – in some future Paarfi novel, even though the events of the Interregnum are well and truly covered by the Khaavren Romances? o.O And have you had this idea since before I asked about candlebuds? 😉

  13. skzb

    I prefer the speculation. It’s possible I might someday produce an answer, but don’t bet the farm on it.

  14. Re-reading now for the second or third time and it’s just as good as the first. Parfi is one of the great unreliable narrators of fantasy fiction right up there with Corwin of Amber and Bilbo Baggins. I sincerely hope to read more from him soon.

  15. skzb

    Thank you kindly. There will be more in just about a year.

  16. skzb

    I should explain that it is Paarfi, but not Khaavren (although his wife makes a brief appearance).

  17. Please tell me its basically your version of the Count of Monte Cristo and that it will be ridiculously long.

  18. skzb

    Uh. Well. Basically, yes and yes.

  19. Re-reading now for the fourth or fifth time and it continues to be one of my favorite of SKB’s novels.

    One thing that has consistently made me scratch my head though: in the Taltos books much is made of the ability to resurrect the dead and the ways to get around it. Does the same magic exist in the time of the Phoenix Guards (hence why everyone seems to not be very concerned about public duelling) or is this a later discovery. Forgiveness if this has been answered already in a book I haven’t read yet.

  20. Revivification is a post-Interregnum technology. At the time of TPG (and FHYA), dead is dead, unless you can personally convince the Gods to make an exception (vanishingly rare).

  21. Yes. When the orb came back out of the Paths, ending the Interregnum, Verra and the other gods had souped it up a bit. Teleporting, psychic communication, revivication, those were all new.

  22. Should we be at all worried that the new Paarfi novel is taking a scosh longer than expected to hit the shelves?

  23. Oh, nope! Went to pre order and it said July of 2020. Sweet.

    /checks watch

  24. skzb

    Yeah, they’ve delayed it like three times. Sad.

  25. Did Paarfi have to change literary patrons again?

  26. I just pre-ordered it! Best New Year’s present ever.

    Bonus – I need to read Sethra Lovade again. Which will be a pleasure.

  27. I believe the Phenix Guards book traveled back in time and is the reason why you appear in this XIXth century drawing, close to Alexandre Dumas: . The name says “T(heophile) Gauthier” but it fools no one, we all recognized Steven Brust there, riding a half horse-half jhereg creature.

  28. That DOES look a bit like Mr. Brust. Is this kind of like that time when we can see Jack Nicholson in the old portraits in The Shining?

  29. Rereading the Khaavren books in anticipation of the next volume arriving in a few weeks and I have to ask about Bengloarafurd. When you, Sir Author, wrote this, did you know about Torpenhow ( Or is there a place name local to you that has a similar etymology?

    It always makes me laugh, anyway.

  30. RonJB–

    While you are reading TPG, if you figure out the Candlebud thing, let us in on it please.

  31. Since we’ve returned to the Candlebud thing, my theory on it is that it was a wild goose chase to get a couple of newbie conspirators out of Seodra’s hair for a while. “So, you’re looking for influence in the courts, kid? Well, the best place to start is with the consort, since she’s the closest to the emperor. And not many people know this, but she’s particularly fond (as we define the word) of this obscure flower called Candlebud. Nudge, nudge.” When this clumsy seduction attempt fails, Allistar is likely humiliated and discredited, the siblings get a sense of the true stakes and Seodra and friends have a good laugh. Later, some time before she visits him in jail, Illista trades upon her influence with Khaavren for a seat at Seodra’s table.

  32. Well, there’s an interesting conversation between Seodra and the Warlord at the end of chapter 13, where they are talking about ways to stop G’aereth from getting in the way of their plans:
    “G’aereth, I confess, is a problem. He must be given other things to think about.”
    “Have you something in mind, Seodra?”
    “Hmmmm. Well you could send him out to look for something such as, say, candlebud.”
    Lytra stared at the hooded figure for a moment, then a slow smile spread across her face, which gradually grew broader until it erupted in laughter, which filled the small tower above the imperial residences.

    So I assume the search was a device to get rival intriguers out of the way for a time to allow Seodra’s plot to develop.

  33. skzb

    RonJB: I knew about it. Also heard it’s not accurate, but why would I let that get in my way?

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