Here be Dragons

Possible spoilers from ‘The Emperor’s Edge’.

Pauline’s Review (posted 1/17/13)

This is the second in the ‘Emperor’s Edge’ series of steam-punk fantasy adventures with Amaranthe the female cop and her unlikely bunch of sidekicks. They’re more at the entertaining romp end of the fantasy spectrum, and it probably doesn’t pay to look too closely at the precise details of the plot, a fairly ramshackle affair which would fail any logic test, so anyone looking for great insight into the human condition or gritty realism should probably move swiftly on. But light-hearted fun is fine by me, and this delivers by the (steam powered) truck load.

Amaranthe and her pals are still avoiding the long arm of the law after the misunderstandings of the first book, but trying meanwhile to curry favour with the emperor by carrying out helpful clean-up operations on the less reputable elements of the city. So even though they spend their time breaking and entering, snooping around and trying (not always successfully) not to kill anybody, they are really on the side of the law. Sort of.

The characters are rather a fun, if motley, collection. Amaranthe herself, once a rare female enforcer (cop) before she became a wanted woman, is a fine feisty heroine, not afraid to lead from the front, constantly getting into scrapes as a result but usually managing to get herself out of them again, by ingenuity rather than brute force. Rather charmingly, she believes that almost any situation, no matter how dire, can be resolved by talking things through. And she doesn’t scream. I like her. Sicarius the ice-cold trained-from-birth assassin is an unlikely comrade-in-arms, and he is too often used as a get-out-of-jail-free card, turning up in the nick of time to effect a rescue for one character or another. I don’t really see why bouncy, friendly Amaranthe has the hots for him, rippling muscles or no, but there you go. The rest of the bunch – the narcissistic Maldynado, the studious Books, the aspiring mage Akstyr and the outsider Basilard – are there to fill in the gaps and provide comic relief. Fans of Books will be pleased by his rather sweet little romance.

There’s a certain amount of world-building in this book, and we see more of the technological capabilities of the empire. There are a few snippets of information about the world’s history, too. There is also more magic, and I have to be honest here and say that this is not a fully-developed Sanderson-esque magic system. It’s more a matter of whatever would lead to a particularly dramatic moment turns out to be something the shaman/villain can do. But there’s no real attempt to create a believable in-depth secondary world here, and everything is sacrificed to a witty bit of banter between the sidekicks. Anyone who would be disgruntled to find a character saying “Yo, boss!” should probably not be reading this book.

The action increases, with our heroes getting into more and more difficulties, and the obstacles are almost insuperable, until… well, you can probably guess how it turns out. This is not the realistic gritty style of fantasy, but then it doesn’t pretend to be. It sets out to entertain and amuse, with a sprinkling of oh-my-goodness-how-will-they-escape dramatics, and it does it extremely well. An enjoyable, fun read. Four stars.

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Nathan’s Review (posted 3/6/13)

A quick recap of ‘The Emperor’s Edge;’ Amaranthe and her plucky cast of outlaws are actually nice people, doing everything they can to save the Emperor from some bad people.  Amaranthe sets up a complex and brilliant plan to trap the baddies, which fails miserably.  Despite this, a few lucky breaks and some quick thinking from several people in the crew works out in their favor, the Emperor is saved, and the entire crew find themselves to be outlaws still.  Tough break.

So an ex-cop, deadly assassin, male escort, wannabe magician, former pit fighter, and Books (guess what he does) are out of work, looking for good deeds to clear their name and get back in the Emperor’s good graces.  Turning down a job for an assassination gives them a lead into some nefarious doings anyway, and soon the group must leave town together to save the city from the latest and greatest troubles.  Glowing eyed wildlife, magic practitioners, angry fathers, and near-invincible imported predators are all out there to greet them.

Like the first novel this book moves at a lightning speed, I am amazed at how fast I have read the books in this series.  The group’s adventure relies less on a complex plan and more on quick decisions this time around, which helps alleviate some of the plot holes the first book had (though I am sure a reread would make me questions a few things).  Not a lot is added to the world other than proof there is life outside the main city and some signs that the Emperor they saved is trying to make the land a better place.

The greatest strength of this book comes from the character interactions, which can only be described as fun.  Constant bickering, light jokes, but brotherly (and sisterly in Amaranthe’s case) love is shared by almost all.  I am glad to be past the team set up stage, because the interactions are much more natural now that I have gotten to know the characters.   The author states in the epilog that her hope was to each book feature a different secondary characters; ‘Dark Currents’ features Books.  It worked, though he is certainly not the most intriguing character of the group (though he is probably the most realistic).  What made it work was the relationships he had; the love/hate with Maldynado and the romance he is struggling to keep up with.  I still am not a huge fan of the assassin character, but he doesn’t detract from the story for me.

The weaknesses of the book are easy to spot as well.  Many things happen not for logical reasons, but because the author needs them to happen in order to have a story.  If these were not so fun it may be a bigger deal, but the light hearted nature made me care a little less.  I was a bit disappointed that I learned the reasoning behind some of the villain’s acts, but never the true purpose of the master plan.  This is such a major thing that I have to give the author benefit of the doubt, and assume all will be explained later.  Oh, and I never quite understood the purpose of monsters that eat lady parts.  Just a bit weird. 

The Emperor’s Edge series has so far been a blast to read; Engaging and fun characters, quick paced adventures, and it appears that the beginning of an actual story arc building.  While they are not as strong as Chris Wooding’s ‘Kitty Jay’ Series, I have the feeling a lot of fans of Wooding would really enjoy Buroker’s books.

4 Stars

Books in the series
The Emperor’s Edge
Dark Currents
Deadly Games
Conspiracy
Blood and Betrayal 

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