Review by The Mad Bibliographer, submitted on 9-Oct-2001
The following is adapted from material that originally appeared in the column "Vampires in Print" in The Vampire's Crypt #8 (Fall 1993).
Agyar by Steven Brust (Tor, 1993; $18.95). Review by Cathy Krusberg
Yes, this is the same Steven Brust who has written Jhereg, Yendi, and Teckla, among other works of a more conventional sort of fantasy. Agyar is the diary of one Agyar Janos, or John Agyar, or Jack Agyar, or -- to one person -- "Jonathan." Agyar has quietly taken up residence in a house with a typewriter, functional plumbing, and very little else, a house that has been deserted because it is thought to be haunted. In fact, the new resident is on good terms with the ghost, who showed him a concealed vault where he can spend his days.
Agyar is in Lakota -- "this little star on the map next to Lake Erie" -- because of Laura Kellem. Kellem is older and more powerful than he; she wants him there because her indiscretions have been noticed. "Someone has to take the fall," she tells him. "It's going to be you."
And that's about as much explanation as Agyar ever gets out of her. While waiting for the axe to descend, he occupies himself with minimal socializing; steals a woman named Jill Quarrier from her boyfriend "Young Don" Swaggart; contends with Jill's efforts to steal herself back; does research on recent deaths to find out what Kellem *might* be trying to frame on him; and savors his intermittent contact with Jill's roommate, Susan Pfahl. "Her laugh was merry and seemed contrived like her speech and other mannerisms; yet, like her speech and mannerisms, not unpleasantly so."
Agyar's autobiography allows selective but telling glimpses: turn your mind off for a few paragraphs and you'll miss one sort of revelation or another. Take time to scrutinize the details in Agyar and you'll realize how deeply entrenched the "rules" of vampire existence are in our culture; without widespread knowledge of them, Agyar would be bizarre instead of subtle. The word "vampire" never appears, and as to what Jack does with his pickups: well, variants on "I'm willing to let the embalmers finish what I start" occur from time to time. Jack has difficulties with entrances: glossed over in the telling, but definitely present. There is the time Jill struggles with Jack and goes into convulsions because, biting him, she drew blood. There is Jack's reason for needing a vault to hide in during the day. It's all there, but you have to be familiar with the conventions of vampire fiction to make sense of it.
I suppose that's not a problem for most VAMPYRES listmembers. It's possible, however, that you'll find Agyar's vampiring a bit subtle for your tastes. Agyar himself? He has a sense of humor and a sense of justice; the latter becomes increasingly less selective as the book progresses and as Susan -- initially a mere "side dish" -- works her magic on a creature who can survive a dose of double-ought buckshot from a .12 gauge shotgun. "Magic" isn't a bad word for what happens in Agyar, either. There's a little bit of ritual magic and a lot of understated wit, not to mention subtle but pervasive suspense: what *is* Kellem going to do?
I'm not sure I'd want Agyar for a neighbor, but I wish he'd kept a diary before this set of adventures occurred; his is a fascinating voice, and Agyar is a tale that bears re-reading.