“Morrolan, how many Yendi does it take to sharpen a sword?”
He looked at me through slitted eyes. “Tell me,” he said.
“Three. One to sharpen the sword, and one to confuse the issue.”
Yendi was the second Dragaera book to be published, in 1984. It takes place before the main chapters of Jhereg; Vlad has established himself as a Jhereg boss but is still relatively early in his career.
This was a tricky book to untangle. Not that that’s surprising – it’s practically right there on the title page…
The yendi is a snake with a slow-acting but deadly venom. The Lyorn Records say that the yendi’s victims often don’t notice the bite until they suddenly die an hour later.
Yendi coils and strikes, unseen…
Little is known about the House of the Yendi. The name of the House is a byword for subtle and intricate plots; those machinations appear to be the only identifying trait of the House. The Yendi certainly aren’t going to make it easy for anyone else to notice them, because when you know there’s a Yendi about, then you can be assured that they’re up to something.
A neighboring Jhereg boss, Laris, encroaches on Vlad’s territory and incites a turf war. Things escalate quickly (and expensively for both sides), and after surviving two other attempts on his life, Vlad is killed by the famous assassin duo “the Sword and the Dagger” – but not permanently. He wakes up in Dzur Mountain, Sethra Lavode’s stronghold, and discovers that the assassins were also killed, and have also been brought to Dzur Mountain and revivified.
The Sword and the Dagger are an interesting pair. As assassins, they are considered to be second only to Mario Greymist1Mario being the assassin who killed the Emperor before the Interregnum. He is a legend among the Jhereg – and extremely expensive to hire.. The Sword is an ex-Dragon named Norathar e’Lanya, who turns out to potentially be the actual Dragon Heir (or would have been had she not left the House after she was supposedly shown to be a bastard). The Dagger is Cawti2Those reading in chronological order may not already know that Cawti will soon be married to Vlad, but the publication order makes a will-they-won’t-they plot here pretty pointless., an Easterner woman with a background not unlike Vlad’s. They quickly bond over their similarities and only pause briefly (to acknowledge that Cawti has returned their fee and dropped the job of ensuring Vlad’s death) on the way to commencing a romantic relationship.
Another unsuccessful assassination attempt later, Vlad decides that his survival of four different attempts on his life can’t be coincidence. Meanwhile, Aliera’s interest in genetic studies (and her desire to not be the Dragon Heir) surfaces again, and her scan of Norathar reveals her to be a true Dragon and the rightful Heir. Back at Castle Black, in the process of trying to put these pieces together, Vlad discovers that the Sorceress in Green (a perennial guest at Morrolan’s party) is a Yendi, and everything starts to come together once they know there must be Yendi machinations involved.
The plot turns out to be a collaboration between the Sorceress in Green and Sethra the Younger (a Dragon and apprentice of Sethra Lavode’s). They wanted to insure that the Dragon Heir would be someone who would name Sethra the Younger as Warlord and start a war with the Easterners. Norathar, Aliera, and Morrolan were ultimately the targets of the part of the plot that involved Vlad; Vlad himself and his entire operation was essentially collateral damage in the attempt to kill Norathar and discredit Aliera and Morrolan via their involvement in the Jhereg war3Though Vlad’s friendship with Aliera and Morrolan was part of the plan to draw them into the war in the first place..
Sethra Lavode takes care of punishing her apprentice. Meanwhile, Aliera, Norathar, and Morrolan (along with Vlad and Cawti) take the usual Dragon approach towards the Sorceress in Green: killing her, revivifying her, and mind-probing her to get details of her other plots. Before her death, though, Vlad extracts Laris’ location from her at the point of a Morganti knife, allowing him to wrap up the turf war with a direct strike to his opponent (and take over his territory and operation in the process).
The book closes with Vlad and Cawti visiting Vlad’s grandfather, asking for his blessing for their marriage.
The Yendi Thesis
To quote Vlad, “It is axiomatic that nobody but a Yendi can unravel a Yendi’s scheme.” Previously in the same conversation – when he is talking with Morrolan immediately after discovering that the Sorceress in Green is a Yendi – he says, “Wherever you find a Yendi, you find a plot. A devious plot. Twisted, confusing, just the kind of thing we’re facing.” Similarly, in Phoenix, Vlad (as the narrator) says that a Yendi’s definition of “civilized” behavior is “making sure no one ever knows exactly what you’re up to.”
To the extent that the Yendi have a guiding ethos at all, it seems to be conspiring to get what you want as subtly as possible – ideally without anyone else even realizing that you’re involved, let alone realizing that you’re benefiting from the things that happen as a result of your schemes.
The Yendi Antithesis
Morrolan replies to Vlad’s Yendi axiom with “Maybe I use different axioms”, and that is the core of the Yendi antithesis – a refutation of the arrogant assumption that nobody outside the House of the Yendi can figure out a Yendi’s machinations. But it isn’t necessarily “unraveling” that Morrolan has in mind – if the Sorceress in Green’s scheme is the Gordian Knot, then Morrolan wants to be Alexander, cutting straight through the tangled mass of Yendi intrigue. The problem with the Alexandrian solution, though, is that you have to know where the knot is before you can swing a sword at it, and it takes the protagonists most of the book just to positively identify the people behind the scheme. Still, once that is done, Sethra axiomizes the Yendi antithesis in another way: “It is vain to use subtlety against a Yendi.”
Once again, the Dragon mode of thinking acts in opposition to the named House – where the Yendi incite confrontation between others to attain their ends, Dragons prefer to be right in the middle of the confrontation with swords in their hands.
Simply to reach the point where they can do something about the plot carried out by the Sorceress and Sethra the Younger, Vlad and his allies have to think like Yendi. But the discovery of an actual Yendi in their midst is the key that allows them to finally put all the pieces together – the Yendi way of life proves to be somewhat self-defeating in this case. And then the protagonists can largely shift into the Dragon mode to deal with the Yendi plot – apply sufficient force directly to the principals of the scheme, and watch it break apart.
Vlad’s solution to his own problems is a blend of the two approaches as well. In the midst of the combat in which the Sorceress is cornered and killed, Vlad takes advantage of the conflict between the Dragons and the Sorceress (which is at this point basically being fought over Dragon honor) to extract some information from the Sorceress which he needs to accomplish his own ends; he then steps back and lets the rest of the battle proceed without him. This is a typically Yendi approach to the situation. On the other hand, armed with that information he goes personally to deal with Laris, killing him with his own hands (and presumably a knife) – whereas the Yendi seem to avoid getting their own hands dirty whenever possible.
Other interesting notes
Yendi coils and strikes, unseen
Fittingly, the lone Yendi in the novel stays hidden for most of the story. Prior to the reveal of the Sorceress’ House at the end of chapter 14 (i.e. about 80% of the way through the book), the word “yendi” appears only three times:
- In chapter 8, Vlad-as-narrator mentions that Sethra occasionally turns would-be heroes who attack her into yendi or jhegaala.
- In chapter 13, when Vlad and Cawti are brainstorming about whether they were supposed to figure out that the attempts on his life weren’t genuine, Vlad remarks, “Come on, lover. We aren’t Yendi.”
- Just a few lines later, when Vlad is speculating on Laris’ intentions to figure out how to respond, Cawti replies, “Are you sure you aren’t part Yendi?”
Of these three occurrences, one refers to the actual animal and the other two are used rhetorically (though in a way that makes it clear to the observant reader that we’re starting to get close to the truth of the matter). Nevertheless, for eighty percent of the novel, the novel’s namesake House remains hidden4Unless you know what to look for. Vlad is introduced to the Sorceress in Green in Chapter 1 and refers to her as an Athyra. Morrolan tries to correct him but gets cut off when Vlad suddenly needs to leave to deal with the incursion into his territory – resulting in Vlad going without that vital piece of information for another thirteen chapters. If Morrolan had been able to finish his sentence, this would have been a shorter book – and a much less fun one..
Chronology and plot arc
- In Jhereg, Vlad was already married to Cawti; in Yendi we see how they meet. Their romance is fairly abrupt, but while it’s possible to interpret that as a failure to write credible romance on the part of the author, I see it as an indication of how isolated both Vlad and Cawti feel – both as Easterners among Dragaerans, and as assassins among society. Is that a sufficient connection upon which to build a marriage? We’ll see, soon enough.
- In the denouement of the novel, Vlad folds Laris’ territory into his own; by the end of the book, he doesn’t have complete control over it, but he does by the start of Jhereg. Parts of Dragon and Tiassa come between the end of Yendi and the beginning of Jhereg; we’ll see whether those books address any complications that come up as he’s consolidating his control over the area Laris used to own.
The next book in publication order is Teckla. We’ll have a lot of politics to discuss, I suspect…
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Mario being the assassin who killed the Emperor before the Interregnum. He is a legend among the Jhereg – and extremely expensive to hire.|
|2.||↑||Those reading in chronological order may not already know that Cawti will soon be married to Vlad, but the publication order makes a will-they-won’t-they plot here pretty pointless.|
|3.||↑||Though Vlad’s friendship with Aliera and Morrolan was part of the plan to draw them into the war in the first place.|
|4.||↑||Unless you know what to look for. Vlad is introduced to the Sorceress in Green in Chapter 1 and refers to her as an Athyra. Morrolan tries to correct him but gets cut off when Vlad suddenly needs to leave to deal with the incursion into his territory – resulting in Vlad going without that vital piece of information for another thirteen chapters. If Morrolan had been able to finish his sentence, this would have been a shorter book – and a much less fun one.|