So, THE EMPEROR’S EDGE is an indie title, which I picked up because of this review by Sherwood Smith.
Yes, yes, boring cover, but don’t judge the book by it.
Smith said, “The Emperor’s Edge series is one of my favorite types of adventure stories, with double crosses, quick thinking, great action scenes, and a good deal of creative problem solving. One of the best things about the series is the main character, Amaranthe. She begins as a cop, the first female included in the hitherto exclusively male enforcer corps. She’s not gorgeous, or fantastically skilled. She’s . . . likable. And curious. And manages to get herself into a whole lot of trouble without meaning to. . . .the world is a kitchen sink sort of construction, painted in very broad strokes, wherein magic, paper money, trains, zeppelins, and alien technology all exist side by side.”
Okay, so: fun steampunkish worldbuilding, that sounds like it could be good. Police corporal, check, I like do-the-job types with a clear sense of duty. Plus, there’s a scary uber-competent assassin, double check, I love assassins. Heroic action and quick thinking, good, sounds promising.
So, my take after reading just the first book:
I love Amaranthe, who started off in business school and then went into police work instead. She does indeed have a very clear sense of duty. She’s definitely a straight arrow. She’s also determined, quick-witted and good in a crisis. She’s also enough of a thinker to come up with clever plans (though they don’t always go quite right), and she’s very persuasive and good with people. I thought this last characteristic was especially well done; I think it would be hard to write a character like that.
I also love the assassin, Sicarius, because, first, you gotta love an uber-competent assassin, right? And then I love him because he really is, uh, not exactly a straight arrow. In fact, I am compelled to describe him as a cold-blooded killer, but! Not purely so. Just nearly. One can see how his relationship with Amaranthe is likely to change them both. (This is not a romance, just FYI, though there are hints it could go that way in the future).
Here’s the two of them meeting for the first time, right after Amaranthe has been tasked with finding and killing Sicarius and has wisely rejected the segguested seduction approach in favor of pretending she wants to hire him.
Start out asking potential customers questions they have to answer with yes. Consistency is your ally. People are more likey to say yes to a sale after a string of positive responses. Just don’t let them start out saying no.
She cleared her throat. “I’m Amaranthe Lokdon. You are Sicarius, correct?”
“You know who I am.”
“Are you as good as they say?”
“You asked for me by name. Frequently.”
Amaranth tried to decide if his words implied suspicion. His tone never fluctuated. Like his face, his voice betrayed nothing of his thoughts.
“That doesn’t answer my question.” She smiled.
“You have work to propose. Do so.”
So much for the get-them-to-say-yes strategy.
This meeting takes place 10% of the way into the book, and while the initial set-up of the novel is fine, I think the story takes off here. This is not, as I said, a romance, though, so this is not policewoman-meets-super-hot-assassin, which is fine by me as insta-lust situations make me roll my eyes and insta-love is worse. Actually, Amaranthe is attracted to Sicarius, but it’s not at all clear he’s likely to respond – and someone else is attracted to Amaranthe, though she doesn’t know it. It’s kind of a love triangle where each member of the triangle is fairly oblivious to one of the others. I enjoy this set up. There’s loads of room to take the relationships in this series in any direction.
Okay, there is a conspiracy against the young Emperor, and naturally Amaranthe and Sicarius join forces to save him, though it’s not clear why Sicarius would care till right at the end – it’s quite plain there’s something going on there, but not what. So, anyway, Amaranthe comes up with a plan and they recruit various other people to help, including my favorite, Maldynado, a charmingly egotistical Handsome Dude who is so insulted later in the story when the bounty put on his head doesn’t match his idea of his worth. He’s all, “But no one would even risk pulling a muscle to draw their swords to collect such a paltry amount! It’s so unfair!” I honestly think he might be my favorite character, though I really enjoy both Amaranthe and Sicarius and also a secondary character called Books (he’s a scholar).
Then there are magically constructed monsters and nasty medical experiments, witty repartee and fast talking, clever plans and death-defying escapes. I will just give away here that the good guys save the day and the bad guys get what they deserve. This is a quick, fun heroic fantasy, but it’s not fluff; there’s a dark edge to this story.
Very good. The dialogue is clever and I think you will appreciate it, but the writing as such does not call attention to itself. That means this is a story you can fall right into. To me, the beginning seems a tad slow, but in general I don’t mind that when the author is establishing the world and introducing the characters. I noticed zero errors, so Buroker did an admirable job with copy editing and formatting.
Okay, your mileage may vary, but I must admit I found all three of the main bad guys fairly one-dimensional and, in general, rather implausibly Bad. The Emperor himself is also rather one-dimensional and more than a bit goody-goody. Not that we see much of him, but he gets the odd pov scene. I never like it when an author imposes modern values wholesale onto a character when there is no logical reason for him to possess those values, other than he was just Born Enlightened, I guess. Plus, he has Gentle Eyes ™. His sweet disposition is evident to complete strangers such as Amaranthe within seconds of meeting him.
Also, this is One Girl and A Bunch of Guys, at least in the first book. I suspect and hope that this is likely to change as the series goes on — Smith’s review implies that more female characters appear later.
Okay, despite the Bad Villains and the Good Young Emperor, the central characters, where Buroker put her attention, are delightful. And who knows, the Emperor may develop greater complexity and believability as the series continues, because this is a eight-book series.
Oh, and btw, even though this is a series, THE EMPEROR’S EDGE stands alone very well. This is good since I don’t have time to read the second book right away. I did buy it, incidentally, right after finishing the first book. I loved the ending of THE EMPEROR’S EDGE and I love how that ending sets up the second book. I’m looking forward quite a bit to seeing what happens next.
Buroker’s blog has a good bit of info on how she makes pricing decisions and what she does to promote her books, which is all very interesting and you might want to stop over there and check it out.
THE EMPEROR’S EDGE has a whopping 640 reviews on Goodreads, which is quite stunning and makes it clear Buroker is doing something right.
And one of the things she is doing right is leaving this book free on Amazon to serve as a hook to her series.