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Brokedown Palace

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Back in print after a decade, Brokedown Palace is a stand-alone fantasy in the world of Steven Brust's bestselling Vlad Taltos novels. Once upon a time…far to the East of the Dragaeran Empire, four brothers ruled in Fenario: King Laszlo, a good man―though perhaps a little mad; Prince Andor, a clever man―though perhaps a little shallow; Prince Vilmos, a strong man―though perhaps a little stupid; and Prince Miklos, the youngest brother, perhaps a little―no, a lot-stubborn. Once upon a time there were four brothers―and a goddess, a wizard, an enigmatic talking stallion, a very hungry dragon―and a crumbling, broken-down palace with hungry jhereg circling overhead. And then…

352 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1985

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About the author

Steven Brust

108 books2,128 followers
Steven Karl Zoltán Brust (born November 23, 1955) is an American fantasy and science fiction author of Hungarian descent. He was a member of the writers' group The Scribblies, which included Emma Bull, Pamela Dean, Will Shetterly, Nate Bucklin, Kara Dalkey, and Patricia Wrede, and also belongs to the Pre-Joycean Fellowship.


(Photo by David Dyer-Bennet)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 98 reviews
Profile Image for Bookwraiths.
698 reviews1,044 followers
October 21, 2013
Originally reviewed at Bookwraiths Reviews
Brokedown Palace is a fantasy fable, as told by Stephen Brust.

The tale itself is set in the Dragaeran world of Vlad Taltos in the human (Easterner) kingdom of Fenario, which borders the land of Faerie (Dragaera). Legend tells that mighty Fenarr established the land and brought it peace by riding a Taltos horse (talking horse) across the mountains into Faerie, where he took up the magic sword Allam, and forced the lords of Faerie to swear to leave his people alone forever. (Of course, another view of the legend of Fenarr is found in The Phoenix Guards, where we see him from the Faerie (Dragaera) view point.)

If you are interested in reading this book because it is set in Brust’s Dragaera, I would feel remiss in not pointing out that - while the dragaera are mentioned at various times in the story - they have little part in the actual plot of this tale. So be forewarned.

The majority of the action in Brokedown Palace takes place within the confines of the actually Palace of the Fenario Kings, which has become a crumbling ruin. There King Laszlò, the oldest of four brothers, rules in his father’s stead, aware of the decay of his home but steadfastly determined to maintain the status quo. With him resides his three brothers: Prince Andor, the second oldest, is a man seeking meaning in his life; Prince Vilmos is a giant of a man, endowed with physical strength and limited intellect - or so it seems; and lastly, Miklòs, who is the deep thinker of the family.

Our tale begins with Miklòs and King Laszlò having argued, and the younger brother throwing himself into the mighty river beside the palace to save his life. The younger brother miraculously survives his watery flight, is found by a taltos horse like his ancient forefather was, and is taken into the land of Faerie.

After several years, Miklòs grows weary of his life in Faerie and longs to go back to his riverside home, so one day he leaves his master’s lands and does just that.

When he gets there, of course, it does not live up to Miklòs’ memories, and he finds that the joy of his reappearance among his brothers is mingled with suspicion of him. This wariness a byproduct of the growth of a mysterious tree in his long vacated rooms.

Soon, Miklòs finds himself clashing with his brother the king yet again. Now though - armed with the power of Faerie, a taltos horse, and a mission for change - he will not flee his home, but is determined to transform the palace for the better. The remainder of the tale concerns itself with this struggle for change and the mysterious tree.

For those wishing to try this story, you need to keep several things in mind: one funny and one serious.

The funny item first. Supposedly, the title of the novel, the “tall tales” in the book as well as the names of places and things were all inspired by the Grateful Dead. On the Dead’s American Beauty album, there is a song titled “Brokedown Palace”, which talks about returning to a riverside home a different person after a long journey. As for the “tall tales,” an example of the Dead’s influence can be seen in the story of the boy trying to win the Princess, where he meets the Demon Goddess in three guises: one twice his age, one twice his height, and one twice his weight. Those three forms are specifically mentioned in the Dead song "I Need a Miracle." And an example of the Grateful Dead’s influence on place names is clearly seen by Cukros Elofa, which - supposedly - is Hungarian for Sugar Magnolia: another track on the Dead’s American Beauty album. So basically, the whole novel can be viewed as a tribute, of sorts, to the Grateful Dead.

Now, the more serious thing to keep in mind. This is not a standard fantasy novel, but is more correctly labeled a folk tale, or fable.

As most of you are aware, a fable is a fictional story that generally “features animals, mythical creatures, plants, inanimate objects or forces of nature which are anthropomorphized (given human qualities such as verbal communication), and that illustrates or leads to an interpretation of a moral lesson (a "moral"), which may at the end be added explicitly in a pithy maxim.” Wikipedia. A “maxim” is a wise saying, “especially one intended to advise or recommend a course of conduct.” Wikipedia. And this is exactly what Brust is writing: a fable regarding the inevitable societal clash between the old status quo and the new.

Indeed, in this novel, Brust uses everything as an allegory for society as a whole. The palace itself is the sociopolitical status quo, which is aging and showing signs of decay. King Laszlò is the stagnant dominant class, attempting to maintain the status quo. The government of this status quo is represented by the magical sword, Allam. Prince Miklòs represents the Proletariat, who are subordinate but demanding that change takes place. Prince Andor is the representation of religious adherents (he is shown as a follower of the Demon Goddess: the land’s patron deity) and is portrayed as ignorant, gluttonous, and lacking motivation to discover the truth on his own. The wizard Sandor is the religious leader, who rules over Andor (religious adherents) and influences the ruling elite so as to maintain power. Prince Vilmos represents the majority of society: fully of mighty strength yet slow to respond to change and bound tightly in its loyalty to tradition. Bolk, the taltos horse, is the voice of reason/science, prodding his student, Miklòs, toward a revolutionary upheaval. And the mysterious “tree” is the evolution of a sociopolitical change, which the dominant class wishes to contain or destroy.

Naturally, all these divergent interests take sides and struggle among themselves throughout the book, as would be expected, because - according to Karl Marx - history is nothing but a constantly class struggle and social upheaval.

Now, am I saying this “fable” Brust has given his readers is nothing but a literary device to expound the virtues of revolution or Marxism?

Some people view it as such, but I suppose it can be read as merely an entertaining novel - if you overlook the lack of anything happening. Because the majority of this book is focused on a palace crumbling down and the brothers taking sides whether to destroy a tree growing out of it. Quite simply, that is what the story is about.

I personally find allegorical stories boring, especially ones where the story is about nothing but the sociopolitical message of the writer. Unfortunately, there is practically no way to read Brokedown Palace without being slapped in the face over and over again with the philosophical message that Brust is expounding.

Allow me to give a few, simple examples of this.

One of the first steps in Miklòs change for the better at his palace home is the destruction of religion. Naturally, there is no way to solve the decrepit edifices issues without the kingdom’s patron goddess being destroyed, or at least, that is what Miklòs trusty, taltos horse, Bolk, advises him.

“But - the Goddess. You can’t be serious.” (Miklòs)
“Have I ever been anything else, dear master?” (Bolk)
“But how? How can I fight the Goddess?”
“It is what I am for.”
“But you said you couldn’t-”
“I cannot. You can. I shall be your weapon.”
“But what will it gain us?”
“It will remove a powerful weapon from those who wish to
destroy the tree. It is the Goddess who inspires them against it. Without her, much of their will to fight will be gone.”

And when Miklòs and Blok finally set out to destroy the goddess, they go to the palace’s central courtyard, where her statue resides. Once there, our young prince contemplates the nature of his former god, specifically her statue, and wonders if his planned deicide is “. . . a desecration or perhaps the expression of a sick perversion?”

Thus, this scene - which seems out of place in the flow of events - allows Brust to explain to his readers that the appropriate methods to destroy religion - and thereby aid revolution - is either by desecrating its message or perverting it. Desecration being a violent disrespect or degradation of its tenets until no one feels it is worthy of belief anymore. While perversion is merely the act of altering something from its original meaning, misapplying its rules, or misrepresenting the true meaning. By doing either thing, religion’s influence on society will be nullified.

With the goddess dealt with, Miklòs must destroy the Palace (sociopolitical status quo), and so Brust’s avatar of the proletariat begins to manipulate his brother Vilmos (bulk of society), attempting to persuade him to join in this destruction (revolution).

“What is it you want, right now, more than anything?” (Miklòs)
“What I want? To keep my norska (children) safe?” (Vilmos)
Miklòs nodded, as if that were the answer he’d been expecting. “Good. The danger to the norska is the Palace (societal status quo), isn’t it?” Vilmos nodded. “Then the way to save them is to make it so the Palace isn’t a danger anymore.”
“Ha!” said Vilmos. “Easily said. I have been working for the
last two days to-”
“I know. But listen, Vili, remember the tree in my old room
and how you couldn’t make yourself destroy it? . . . “
”There are those who wish to destroy it (the tree). The chief
among them was the Demon Goddess.” (Miklòs)
. . . “She, like Laszlò, wished to leave the Palace standing
rather than replace it, even though it has become a danger to us all. . . If we leave it standing, it will collapse upon us.”

When Andor (religious adherents) hears this manipulation of Vimos by fear mongering, he intervenes, but Miklòs stops him by stating the following:

“. . . From as far back as I remember, you have been looking for something to make life meaningful for you. Time after time, you have failed. Why? Maybe it isn’t something you have been doing wrong, as we’ve all been thinking it was. Maybe there just isn’t any way to find out who you are, when everywhere you turn you are surrounded by either the collapse of your home or desperate efforts to hold back this destruction.
“But I have another alternative for you: embrace it. Embrace the collapse of all we’ve lived with and work to create something better in its place.”

Naturally, Andor responds by asking a simple question: “How, better? You’ve been saying what is wrong with the Palace (societal status quo), but how do I know that what you want to replace it with is better?”

Miklòs responds by stating that: “Whether it is better or worse than what we have now matters not in the least.”

Revolution for revolutions sake, I suppose?

In any event, I have read some reviews that compare this novel to Animal Farm by George Orwell, and I believe it is a fair assessment. Brokedown Palace is obviously Brust’s attempt “with full consciousness of what he (is) doing, "to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole" Why I Write by George Orwell. However, here Brust is holding up revolution, or Marxism if you will, as the hope of society - not a failed experiment.

With that being said, I do not believe most fantasy fans of Mr. Brust swashbuckling Vlad Taltos or Khaavren Romances will enjoy this book. But obviously, Brokedown Palace was not written for those type of readers. It is penned for those who love analyzing a story for all the possible allegorical meanings hidden within every sentence and paragraph.

So if you need a novel to discuss with your book club and have already dissected Animal Farm, pick up Brokedown Palace. It might make you *YAWN* in its arguments in favor of Marxism, but you can spend lots of time discussing its flawed logic.

Profile Image for Jon.
833 reviews253 followers
November 4, 2009
Synopsis : A stand-alone fantasy set in the world of Steven Brust's bestselling "Vlad Taltos" novels. Once upon a time . . . far to the East of the Dragaeran Empire, four brothers ruled in Fenario: King Laszlo, a good man — though perhaps a little mad; Prince Andor, a clever man — though perhaps a little shallow; Prince Vilmos, a strong man — though perhaps a little stupid; and Prince Miklos, the youngest brother, perhaps a little — no, a lot-stubborn. Once upon a time . . . there were four brothers; a goddess; a wizard; an enigmatic talking stallion; a very hungry dragon; and, a crumbling, broken-down palace with hungry jhereg circling overhead.

My Thoughts and Reactions : It felt like I was reading a faerie tale, a fable or some other sort of morality play. The Interludes between chapters sometimes worked and sometimes just distracted me. I felt one-step removed from the characters. The story led me along and attempted to hammer home its point or moral, but I felt it missed the mark slightly.

Action sequences were limited to a dragon hunt that lasted one chapter and the nearly irrational behavior of King Laszlo and his obsession with the Palace. Characters developed and matured, but nothing was tied up neatly with a bow at the end. I surmise I finished this so quickly because of prevalent dialogue, although somewhat lacking in wit most of the time.
Profile Image for [Name Redacted].
789 reviews394 followers
June 26, 2013
I first picked this book up because it had cover art by Alan Lee, and at the age of 13 (as today) I was an avid fan of Lee's work. What is more, I somehow managed to read the entire thing, enjoy it thoroughly, and NEVER CONNECT IT WITH BRUST'S "VLAD TALTOS" SERIES. Despite the fact that it mentions animals specific to the world in which that series was set. Despite the fact that I was already a fan of Brust's work. DESPITE THE FACT THAT I HAD JUST READ THE FIRST SIX BOOKS IN HIS "VLAD TALTOS" SERIES. I'd picked them up from a used book store while visiting my grandparents the previous Summer. What I'm saying is that adolescent Ian wasn't always the most observant reader. Maybe the beauty of the cover art just distracted me?

I don't imagine it helped that I read it while forced to attend an actor's training camp in Berkeley (back in the days when my parents seemed to think acting would be my "thing"). I think this was my self-prescribed reward for finishing the tedious Emma (my least favorite of Austen's work) which I had been assigned to read for school. I remember being perched in an oak tree, hiding from the burning rays of the Californian sun, and devouring this novel, but I also remember being repeatedly distracted by the other young "thespians".

Now I'm re-reading the "Vlad Taltos" series (can decades really have passed since I last read them?), and coincidentally discovering that Brokedown Palace is set in the same world is a decidedly surreal experience.

Looks like I'll have to re-read this too!
Profile Image for Jack.
145 reviews15 followers
December 9, 2008
Possibly my favorite Brust novel, it's a curious little work set in the same world as the Vlad Taltos series, albeit with no obvious connection other than geography. This takes place in Fenario, a small kingdom in the East. King Lazslo has three brothers and the crumbling palace of the title, and the book revolves, as these so often do, around the future of the kingdom. Where it differs from most palace intrigue novels is that there is no villain. None of the brothers is inflamed with hatred against the others, nor power-mad, nor oppressive and overbearing. They simply have different personalities and motivations that inevitably bring them into conflict, despite their obvious love for one another and the kingdom. The book is in part a reflection on the necessity of change and how people variously resist, accept, or embrace it. There's a healthy dose (for fantasy fans) of magic and Heroic Deeds in the book. A talking horse is a major character, there's a menacing dragon, and Verra the Demon Goddess puts in an appearance. Highly recommended for anyone who likes Steven Brust, and worthwhile for any fantasy fan.
Profile Image for Frank Vasquez.
201 reviews17 followers
February 5, 2015
"Point? I don't know, my Prince. Maybe, within this story, there is a prophecy of the tale of your own life. Maybe more. Maybe the point is the futility of all human endeavor. Maybe it is the triumph of justice, whatever the cost. The point? I don't know. You wanted to hear a story so I told you a story. Ask yourself the point. If you were entertained, that is enough for me."

What a brilliantly-written novel. Burst is on poin here. Each character is crafted finely, and you can really get a feel for the history and place of this stand-alone story both in context of the Dragaera novels and without those for context. A really beautiful and mature story. And you'll never realize how much you care about norska until you read this book- full of Hungarian and winks at things to come for Vlad Taltos himself and so much more.
26 reviews19 followers
January 22, 2016
loved the cover art. the story it self was tremendous my favorite character being Vilmos. a little disappointed with the ending of the book didn't go quite as I had expected. But I can definitely see myself rereading this book at some point.
Profile Image for April.
200 reviews6 followers
December 30, 2009
Damn, damn and dammit. This book was over way too soon. Started it yesterday and finished it this morning. I even went so far as to make myself get up and get a new cup of coffee at the end of each chapter. I think this is my favorite book of the year! Whimsical, magical, heartbreaking and joyful I am sitting her contemplating picking the book up again and re-reading it.

I fell in love with each of the characters, I fell in love with the palace, both old and new, I fell in love with the land itself. One of the interludes between chapters exemplifies exactly WHY I read fantasy and WHY I game.

Mr. Brust. You have once again enchanted and enthralled me. I am in your debt. Now if you will excuse me, I think I need to go back and red Brokedown Palace one more time.
Profile Image for Jinjifore.
15 reviews9 followers
May 25, 2016
This was the first book by Steven Brust that I read, and it's still one of my favorites. I loved the disjointed, almost dreamy style of the narrative, and loved the characters and the way they interacted with each other, mostly based on how they regarded the old castle. I really enjoy stories where the characters come into conflict not because they are "bad" or "evil," but because they simply have different motivations, motivations that aren't necessarily in themselves wrong or misguided.
Profile Image for Chy.
442 reviews18 followers
January 16, 2009
Short Summation

This is the tale of four brothers, the oldest of whom is the King of Fenario, and they are in the last days of their crumbling 400-year-old castle. The king refuses to acknowledge that it’s crumbling, even as stairwells and walls collapse. The others struggle in one way or another to back him up, make him see truth, or do what they can to keep the walls from collapsing another day. And the whole time, something is growing in the youngest prince’s room. Something that is special. Something that started its growth on the day the king drove his youngest brother out.

Why this book?

In the world where Brust’s Vlad runs around with Dragaerans, there is a country called Fenario to the east. That’s where the humans live, y’all. Taking into effect how little these humans know about “faeries” I’m assuming the events of this book take place before Vlad’s time, but I’m a fool of an assumptionist. I’m hoping I’ll know much more after reading the next Vlad book, on its way here on the 8th.

When I went to the bookstore with a gift certificate, this was the only Brust book they that I had not read. I read it now, because I heard Jhegaala is to follow Vlad as he travels back east, and this was like catching up on the history before I followed him. Basically, just so I can smirk at the things I recognize. Should I recognize anything. But I can’t imagine Brust not throwing in a thing or four.

How’d it go?

I admit, the galloping prose got on my nerves at first, but I settled into it. I didn’t actually get comfortable with it until the first interlude that was a story within the story. That’s when the feeling of a fable, or fairytale, or some combination of the two took hold, when my brain finally went, “Ah, I get it.” From then on, it was fun to try and decide if it was supposed to be historical, a fairytale of the land; legend, myth, or a fable. Since I gleaned a lesson from the whole thing, I vote fable, but I wouldn’t argue it being anything on that list I mentioned. I think it’ll be different for each reader.

It’s an interesting fable, interspersed with page-long fables and myths of the land here and there, each of them lending to this overall story in ways that you actually have to think about. And since I’m certain they lend to it in different ways for each reader, as I know they lend differently depending on which way I tilt my head, I’m not going into that. It would feel like stealing something from the story.

Vlad’s Demon Goddess plays a part, as does the flitting presence of Devera.

Overall, if the writing gets to you, then you probably won’t like the story, either. To me, if the style were any different, the story would be changed, and that would be a crime. Because this story of death bringing forth new life and growth only allowed when old ideals are put aside couldn’t be told well in any other way, in my opinion.

Still, not everyone enjoys a fable. No, wait-- metaphor! Yeah!

Profile Image for Kathi.
829 reviews45 followers
November 19, 2009
Brokedown Palace is the first book I've read by Steven Brust, and I know I will read more, but I have to say I had a hard time getting into this book.

What I liked: the characters, especially Prince Vilmos, Countess Mariska, and Brigitta. While they didn't feel like "main" characters, each was a key in the story.

What I didn't like: the Interludes--for the most part, they felt incongruous, especially the ones that were "legends" of past kings, princes, or other Fenarians. I tried to figure out what they had to do with the main story, but most of the time, I was clueless. I also didn't like how many things were just unexplained--the various animals, for example--there was very little description and I was unable to picture them.

I will admit to being a not very careful reader--I usually read too fast and, in this book, I read it in fits and starts and didn't get into a "flow" with it. At the end of the book, I couldn't recall where Miklos had previously met Devera. And although I understand that Brigitta had Power from Faerie, I don't understand the oblique reference to who her father was. Nor do I understand what happened to Mariska before she came to Fenario.

So--I enjoyed the book enough to want to read more of Brust's work, but I hope I won't always be so frustrated and feel so confused at the end of his books.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,028 followers
September 3, 2016
Brust is best known for his Vlad Taltos series. This takes place in the fully human part of same world across the mountains & is written as a fairy tale. Reminded me a bit of Patricia A. McKillip's style in the The Riddle-Master of Hed or Ursula K. Le Guin's in A Wizard of Earthsea. There is more unexplainable magic, something I usually don't care for, but it really worked well. The characters were great - all of them. I'd explain that last more, but it would be a spoiler.
Profile Image for Emma.
429 reviews7 followers
September 1, 2009
I'm not sure how to rate this book because I came away from it quite confused about what actually happened. I feel like a lot of it went over my head, so it'd be interesting to read a wikipedia article (or something similar) written by someone who actually understood it. For example, who is Miklos' daughter supposed to be? Minor point, I know, but presumably there's some allusion I'm missing there...
637 reviews12 followers
January 3, 2018
“Brokedown Palace” is part of Brust’s Vlad Taltos series, though it’s far from clear whether it has a significant connection to the central storyline or is more of a standalone story in the same universe. It’s also clearly inspired in some way by the Grateful Dead song. And, finally, and unfortunately, I’m pretty sure, after my latest reread, that it’s a political parable: a Marxist one, to be precise, since Brust is a lifelong Communist, of the Trotskyist persuasion. (Interestingly, when Brust overtly addresses politics he usually deliberately writes against his political beliefs; his latest series is called “The Incrementalists”, not “The Revolutionaries”.) The problem with political parables is, of course, that the plot is inevitably driven by factors external to the book and hence unknowable to the characters: as a result, their actions often don’t really seem to make sense. This is most vividly clear in the central conflict here, between Miklos and his older brother Laszlo, the king. Miklos thinks that the titular palace, where they live, is a dump (as it is, hence the “Brokedown” in the title). The king of course knows that it’s a dump, but is defensive of it: indeed, so defensive that he comes to feel that he has no choice but to either kill Miklos or be killed by him. If the issue at hand were simply the question of whether the Palace needs extensive renovations or maybe a replacement, this would be, frankly, kind of ridiculous: I can’t say it’s never happened, but I imagine that architecture is fairly far down the list of things that princes tend to come to blows over. (Generally speaking, kings are only too happy to build expensive new palaces when the old ones start to get a bit run down.) It only makes sense when you realize that in reality the Palace represents the old order, and what Miklos and Laszlo are actually fighting over is the continued viability of capitalism. Unfortunately, this means that Laszlo’s character just doesn’t work. Brust does his best to persuade us that maybe the man really does love his castle more than his youngest brother, but the Palace’s importance as a place in the book can never match its symbolic importance in Brust’s scheme, and the story’s central conflict ends up feeling rather artificial.

Given this constraint, the rest of the book holds up fairly well, with the other characters slowly picking one side or another, for more or less internally-consistent reasons, leading up to the final showdown. Still, even if the other characters mostly work as characters, they also have to serve as part of the parable, and that prevents them from connecting the way they otherwise might. Once you’re aware that, for instance, Miklos’s brothers Vilmos and Andor represent the working classes and intelligentsia respectively, it’s difficult-to-impossible to think of them as being in some way actual people, the way you would like to be able to think of characters in a novel, something that remains true even though their actions aren’t obviously driven by the imperatives of the author’s scheme. Within the novel itself, it’s perfectly reasonable for Vilmos and Andor to end up siding with Miklos against Laszlo: for one thing, Laszlo must be crazy if he thinks a falling-down castle is more important than his youngest brother. But the fact that the structure of the parable also requires them to side with Miklos makes the reasons that the novel gives for their choices less important, and saps the interest from the internal conflicts that lead them to their decisions.

“Brokedown Palace” is not, by any means, unreadable. Brust brings in politics but doesn’t let it affect his writing: the book isn’t didactic or preachy, and his usual gifts — snappy dialogue, quick-moving action, sympathetic characters — are all present. And fans of the Taltos books will probably want to read this, just in case the brief appearances of the Demon Goddess Verra and Devera end up having some relevance for the main cycle. Plus, the presence of some sort of politics is inevitable in any book, as illustrated by Orwell’s maxim that all art is propaganda. Still, though “Brokedown Palace” doesn’t fall under the second half of that quote, “not all propaganda is art”, it leans a little too much towards the propaganda side. Though Brust’s scheme for the book is not as obvious and unsubtle as some I’ve read, it nevertheless ends up casting a shadow over everything.
Profile Image for Keith .
351 reviews7 followers
May 17, 2022
In the kingdom of Fenario which lies in the shadows of the mountains of Faerie a palace crumbles. The royal family crumbles. This is the tale of how that family deals with joys and tragedies that weave the courses of their lives, loves and troubles.
A tale teller's tale the reading is convoluted at times but the narrative voice is powerful. The story weaves tastes of Hungarian folklore with the author's incredibly lyric and vivid imagination. There's also a tie in to Brust's fantastic Vlad Taltos series. I'm glad I picked this novel up again after the nearly two decades since I last read it.
Profile Image for Eskana.
386 reviews
August 12, 2015
This story centers on four brothers, the oldest of whom, Laszlo, is the ruler of the kingdom of Fenario, a fantasy kingdom right across the mountains from Faerie. Mostly the story is about the youngest brother Miklos, but all the brother's POVs are used from time to time, letting you get to know them. At the beginning of the story, Miklos has been horribly beaten by his older brother (not a typical happening, fyi), although we don't quite know why, and he runs away for two years to Faerie. The story really sets off, though, when he returns.
You see, the royal family- and heart of the kingdom- lives in an ancient "brokedown" palace, which is literally crumbling. The author kind of uses this (I think) as a sort of allegory for the family, but as they try to repair and change their relationships, there are things happening to the Palace itself.
All this and a goddess, a wizard, a conspiracy, a talking horse, and a magic tree too!

This book was definitely a refreshingly read- a fantasy that involved magic, mystical fairy elements, a goddess, and a family of princes and their relationships, but really was about the family itself, and the duty towards family versus the duty of a king, and a violent fear of change when backed by hundreds of years of tradition.

Each brother had clearly his own personality, desires, and character; no cookie cutters here. And no one acted unreasonably, either- each stayed true to his character. This could be true of every character, in my opinion, including Brigitta, Bolk, and Mariska, and more minor characters such as Viktor and Rezso. Really, it was well written and I felt like every character got his due. It was really a delicate balance.

My only problems of the book were these: I felt like there was a lot of information missing. According to Goodreads, this is supposed to be a "stand-alone" novel, and it's kind of its own series; that being said, I felt like there were people, places, and things that I was missing out on. There were a lot of allusions to things I had no idea about, and while it kind of added to the mystery of the whole story, I was left at the end feeling like I just finished the third book in a series after having missed the first two. However, not enough information was given to really pique my interest, although I'm a little curious about the others.

In the end, I will say that this is definitely a great read, definitely pick it up if you are a fantasy fan or even just like to read about inter-family relationships like this, as the elements of fantasy are not central to the story as much as most fantasies. Good for just about anyone (although a little PG-13 rated...)
Profile Image for Michael T Bradley.
751 reviews5 followers
April 15, 2019
I noticed there was like a 4-year gap in the Taltos novels and was curious to see what the other stuff Brust produced in that timeframe was like. So I checked out Brokedown Palace, and was not disappointed. The style is so ... breezy, and conversational (the interludes are nothing but random characters telling us myths/legends), it's amazing that a story even emerges. It reminds me heavily of the Doctor Who New Adventures style: It might not succeed consistently, but it isn't afraid to take risks. Characters are often unaware of their own motivations, acting on often primal instincts.

This is, at first brush, the story of a prodigal prince in the kingdom of Fenoria (where the "humans" are from in Brust's world). He's beaten near to death and thrown out, so he goes to Faerie and learns magic. Buuuuuut that practically never comes up again, even though he's mostly the protagonist of the tale. I want to say it upends the trope, but it mostly just avoids it altogether. This book is about something else.

It's about a tree.

There's a tree growing in the royal palace, and it's threatening to destroy an already tenuously held together structure. The king wants to deny that the palace is in disrepair, and shouts at anyone who brings it up. Why? Is it purely metaphor? It's left for the reader to decide.

The four brothers (Laszlo, the king; Vilmos, the gentle giant; An....Andor (?) the waffling, unfocused one; and Miklos, the prodigal) attempt to come together, though it is at times more difficult than imagined.

My main problem with this book is the same as I had with most DW: New Adventures books, actually, and that's that the third act is ... it just has no sense of urgency and feels like it goes on for a long time to say very little. But the themes, mood, and especially narrator were all strong enough to keep me going.
Profile Image for Tim Hicks.
1,496 reviews116 followers
December 19, 2014
I'll skip the plot summary since Wendell Adams has written a 449-word one earlier (!)

I hadn't heard of this book as I plowed my way through the entire Vlad Taltos and Phoenix Guards series.
This one was written in 1985, after Jhereg and Yendi. Brust was 30 then.

It's set in Dragaera but the overlap is limited to occasional mentions of jheregs and an appearance by the/a Demon Goddess.

But the style is unmistakably Brust - slightly arch, a bit cynical, with the occasional formal burst and quite a bit of gentle humour. Most of all, the style doesn't get in the way of the story at all.

If you know that Brust is a hardcore far-left socialist, you can read this as a political allegory and start identifying who represents what. Again, Wendell Adams have covered that ground thoroughly in his review. But if you don't know that. or you don't care, you can view the various players simply as archetypes. This one has power and wants to keep it; that one can't decide what to do; that one is capable but out of favour; and there's a tension in the setting that will have to be resolved eventually.

Several of the people are not what they seem. Some of them turn out as you might have guessed, some don't. It creates some good drama, as somehow the reader knows Brust isn't going to explain those things till the end.

The ending felt a bit hurried, and somewhat disappointing. This is where the socialist-allegory model seems more relevant, because the ending is pretty much "when change happens, some people will be - er - non-winners."

I enjoyed it anyway. Not a great book, but a good one.
Profile Image for Kristi Cramer.
Author 18 books55 followers
July 23, 2013
It had been a while since I read Steven, and it took a while to get back into his writing style.

However, his dry humor and understated narrative works for me, as long as I work to follow it.

I found Brokedown Palace to be rather dark and a little less funny that some of his other work. I am also still confused about Brigitta. Possibly because I took about a two month break right in the middle of reading.

That being said, I still very much enjoyed this story. I loved the interactions between the brothers and the complex relationship they shared. The way they each evolved as the story progressed. I especially loved Vilmos and his dedication to his Norska.

I loved that the conflict seemingly revolved around the condition of the palace, but there was really so much more at stake and at risk.

The other characters (Brigitta, Mariska, Sandor, Viktor, Bolk) were at times mystifying, but definitely added depth to the story. I had to learn that I didn't have to understand what was going on when some of these characters said things. I just had to trust that I would understand in the long run.

I find that Steven Brust is by no means an easy read, but I for one think it is worth the work to read - and enjoy!
Profile Image for Rachel.
1,155 reviews24 followers
January 12, 2014
Brokedown Palace is told in the style of a fairytale; filled with a fantastical setting, miracle-like magic, and several lessons strapped to its themes.

Amongst this are four brothers who live in a palace that is rotting away from age, neglect, and a strange plant growing within. Like their home, the relationships between these siblings is also getting strained, as each is vastly different from one another. Chapters are devoted to each character, which gives various perspectives into events and the minds of others.

Perspective itself is a core aspect of the book, as is best exemplified by the magical horse, Bolk, whose words differ depending on which person hears. For this very reason, the novel's choice of focusing on internal conflict suits it best. There are no true enemies, nor do the brothers truly hate one another, in fact they understand each other, and only want what's best. The conflict rarely escalates beyond verbal arguments, in which they try to work matters out, but this approach, so unusual in Fantasy, makes it unique.

The one thing lacking is a concrete explanation of why certain elements happened. This book stands alone, but it does have ties to the author's larger universe (which is not required reading to enjoy this title).
Profile Image for Joy.
1,622 reviews22 followers
February 11, 2016
This is the fun and quirky Brust I love, not that pseudo-intellectual experiment I just waded through: Freedom and Necessity. Here are fable like, tall tales as interludes within a story that is loosely connected to the Vlad Taltos world. Humans are the main players in this plot; a Wizard, a Captain of Guard with a grudge, three Princes and the oldest brother, a mad King, in an ancient palace in serious disrepair. As you read you will catch the analogies about life and purpose but all contained in the lighthearted telling of this tale. Brust is no stranger to deep philosophy but he writes a good fable which teaches while it entertains nor always follows logic. I was very pleased especially after I lost my eyesight from reading the above mentioned 5 star (really?) doorstop, coauthored by Emma Bull.
Profile Image for Daryl Nash.
195 reviews15 followers
December 30, 2009
Prior to my planned re-reading of the Vlad Taltos series and reading of the Khaavren romances next year, I thought I'd get my feet wet with a book that has sat on my shelves unread for nearly twenty years. What a strange little book. It's like a fairy tale through the lens of Dragaeran mythology. Knowing Brust's political leanings, it's hard not to see this as sort of a Marxist fable, but the pieces don't line up just right, so perhaps I'm missing something and the Hungarian (and Greatful Dead!) influence is more important. I can't imagine coming to this as a reader without some familiarity with the Vlad novels. As a stand-alone novel, Brokedown Palace is somewhat lacking, but as a satellite to the Dragaeran novels, it's fascinating.
Profile Image for Alan Edwards.
Author 34 books37 followers
September 19, 2011
One thing I really enjoy is Steven Brust's ability to write novels in the same fantasy world that have completely different tones and writing styles, depending on the subject. His Vlad books are noir, his Khaavren series echoes Dumas so well I half-suspect that Brust is actually possessed by the Frenchman's ghost. Brokedown Palace is written like an old-school fairy tale, with interludes of other fairy-tale stories often thrown in between chapters. I had trouble getting into the story, put it down a few times, then got into it enough that it finally hooked me. It's an enjoyable story, but some people might go in expecting Vlad-Brust or Dumas-Brust and be disappointed. I wasn't, but as I said, it was hard for me to get going. Still an enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Anne K..
90 reviews23 followers
April 18, 2012
A great stand alone book taking place in the world of Taltos. You maybe don't need to read any of the other books that take place in this world to read this one but it definitely fleshes it out.

I really liked this, which is evidenced in my reading it straight through and not putting it down until I was finished. I especially loved the dynamics of the brothers. Siblings, I myself have four, can have such complicated relationships. I also liked the sense you got of this crumbling decaying castle (and the crumbling relationships of the people inside it) falling apart while everyone ignores it.
Profile Image for Dev Null.
317 reviews20 followers
December 11, 2018
Brust always does an amazing job of adopting styles in his writing. This time he does an excellent imitation of something like one of Grimm's faerie tales, with maybe a touch of 1001 Nights... but set in his own fantasy world (which will be familiar to readers of his Taltos books, but you don't need to have read those to understand and enjoy this.)

I liked this rather a lot. The plot is a little twisty, and even at the end you're never quite sure exactly what happened and why, but it has some interesting characters and a lovely setting full of fine detail.
Profile Image for Jeremy Preacher.
792 reviews43 followers
April 9, 2011
Brokedown Palace combines my two favorite things about Brust's writing (other than Dumas pastiche) - Hungarian fables and Dragaera. The only reason it took me so long to get to it was that I was under the totally mistaken impression that it must be somehow related to the Claire Danes/Kate Beckinsdale movie of the same name.

It's an odd little book, and raises more questions than it answers in terms of the Dragaera mythos, but it's definitely worth reading.
Profile Image for Jaye.
665 reviews14 followers
November 20, 2016
I decided to pick this one up after finishing The Khaavren Romances. It's set in the same universe as the Dragaeran stories, but set entirely in the East. Miklos is the youngest of four brothers, and his eldest brother is the King of Fenario. The Palace is falling apart, and the Demon Goddess Verra tells him that the only way to save the Palace is to kill or drive away Miklos. Things do not go according to plan.
Profile Image for Kat.
335 reviews12 followers
April 8, 2019
I love how different parts of the Dragaeran universe are written in different styles, yet all hold together. This one is done like a fairy tale, which makes it seem like ancient history with its own myths tossed in, but certain hints suggest that it may be tied to the Vlad Taltos novels more closely than it first appears. It's an odd, dreamlike book, but very good with characters that could have easily been flat fairytale figures... and yet aren't. It's weird. Go read it.
Profile Image for Melissa.
440 reviews35 followers
July 3, 2008
One of very few fantasy books that I read in high school that has stood up to repeated re-readings as an adult. Brust turns a mostly dysfunctional family dynamic into a mythic story of redemption and rebirth. His characters are so compelling, you can see exactly where their decisions will take them, all the while hoping and rooting for them to do something different. Every time you read it!
Profile Image for Derek.
114 reviews1 follower
August 8, 2011
Brokedown Palace was my first exposure to Steven Brust. I don't know that it was necessarily the best place to start (some story elements weren't really explained; I can only assume they were covered in previous books), but the story itself was very interesting. I'm definitely interested in exploring his Vlad Taltos books.
Profile Image for Kat Zantow.
Author 3 books12 followers
November 2, 2011
Oh, I just glanced at my recently read list and I saw this.

It was startling. I had completely forgotten about it...in what, a month? Though most of Brust is win, this book was strikingly not memorable. I think it has something to do with the lack of conflict excepting building vs. tree, and different interpretations of conversations with horses.
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