While Yendi examines Vlad's life shortly following the time when he had begun to establish himself as a serious player in the Jehreg mini-Empire, Taltos reaches even further back, weaving three separate plots - the beginning of his come to power, his expedition with Morrolan, and one mysterious spellweaving heading each chapter - into the fullest picture yet of his early life.
Beginning innoculously with a delivery theft by one of Vlad's henchmen, the story quickly involves Dzur Mountain - and its infamous undead inhabitant Sethra Lavode - along with Morrolan in Castle Black. It shortly becomes apparent this was a setup to get him to Sethra's quarters, to ask him to steal a very important crystal from a high wizard. Insane as it sounds, he has little choice, and when things go wrong at the last second, only a serendipitous find and Morrolan's quick entrance save him. But the ordeal is far from over, when an even more important ordeal awaits Vlad: A perilous journey with Morrolan into the Paths of the Dead to wake the soul trapped in the staff he took.
This is undoubtedly Burst's most mature work in the series to this point, giving up some of the manic energy and cockiness of the first in exchange for a much deeper look into the lives and souls of his heroes. Vlad never loses his snide sarcasm, but he does start to tone it down and put more thought into his dealings with powerful Dragaerans. Most of all, he finally begins to grudginly respect a few. The transition is both bumpy and natural, never plainly stated but obvious again his otherwise cavalier attitudes.
The book is also his finest technically, for while Yendi was an editorial mess, this continues Teckla's themes of emotional confict and redevelopment, in a more subtle way, while simultaneously mixing in a complicated and potentially disastrous device of interleaving two distinct yet connected stories, and a third above them all. And the last is how he succeeds, by leaving them independant yet somehow with relevance to each other; many passages will serve to shed an otherwise unseen corner of light on the other story immediately behind or following, and sometimes farther back, leading the reader to page back or ponder some old assumptions, some deliberately encouraged by the author.
The layers are what make the book memorable after its pages have been turned, thoughtful and roundaboutly organic just as Vlad's witchcraft is. As each chapter opens, a few paragraphs are excepted from the meticulously chaotic preparation casting of one final spell, the final climax that pulls threads from throughout the book into a single whole. The portions of the backstory that handle ground already trod in another book are often skimmed to concentrate on exposing more relevant details.
The book is most certainly a worthwhile read as long as a character-driven story with smooth pacing and imaginative action appeals to you.