The Emperor’s Edge by Lindsay Buroker
|Book Name:||The Emperor's Edge|
|Formatt:||Paperback / Audiobook / eBook|
|Genre(s):||Fantasy / Steampunk|
|Release Date:||December 22, 2010|
Amaranthe Lokdon is one of the Turgonian Empire’s enforcers. She keeps the streets safe (much like a policewoman) and is known for being fastidious. She chews her fingernails when she’s anxious and keeps her hair pinned in a tight, efficient bun. Her approach to sexism in the workplace is to prove herself through hard work. Even still, she is once again passed over for promotion, this time in favor of her sloppy, apathetic partner. No female enforcer in the capital has ever been promoted past Corporal, yet she is determined to become “the first female enforcer chief in the empire…to be somebody that history remembers.” Her arsenal: a short sword, night stick, handcuffs, and a perfectly pressed uniform.
When a building burns down in the capital, she discovers eight bodies, charred beyond recognition. “Of course, the corpses could have come from anywhere,” she wonders, “and been brought here and arranged like this for… what?” This is the opportunity she’s been waiting for. The quintessential Call to Action; the rattling from daily life that sets the hero on her journey. Solving the case would be too great an achievement for even Amaranthe’s scowling boss to ignore.
All of this is forgotten, however, when Amaranthe stumbles upon a cabal named Forge and a plot to kill the emperor. Caught in a game between the empire’s most infamous assassin and Commander Hollowcrest, Amaranthe has to scramble to keep the emperor alive, unveil Forge, and hide from the enormous, supernatural beast haunting the lake. Amaranthe’s short sword, night stick, handcuffs, and perfectly pressed uniform remain hanging sadly on the wall.
My expectations of this book were axed and needed time to rebuild, line-by-line, with the unraveling of the plot. In the meantime, my interest was kept afloat by the story’s fast pace and sympathy for Amaranthe. Proactive, sympathetic, and competent, she has the three primary qualities of an attractive main character. Lindsay Buroker also has a knack for character-building banter that is reminiscent of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series.
Each side character is distinct and necessary to the plot. Thoroughly likeable. But while their personalities are believable, their circumstances are not. They are recruited with simple conversation, a tactic that Amaranthe uses too frequently and too conveniently to solve her problems. Here we have a bit of what I’ll call “Mr. Magoo Syndrome”, a tendency to breeze past obstacles with common sense or a paragraph of dialogue. These are tactics I had hoped to see used subtly by Amaranthe the detective, not desperately by Amaranthe the vigilante.
Tension is further dissipated by conspicuous foreshadowing. For example, Amaranthe’s partner Wholt comments, “the city won’t catch on fire if you indulge occasionally,” a single page before Amaranthe shouts “fire!” and they race to the scene. Nearly every turn of the plot can be anticipated, often by answering “yes” to a series of leading questions. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but here the pace is so fast that the author has little space for worldbuilding, and none for another major point of view. The story’s backstage machinery is visible, partially exposed in a world of scant detail.
The antagonists also suffer, at times appearing naive or inept until later chapters. Fortunately, the plot relies on the cadre of protagonists, not on the setting or otherworldly forces. While there is magic, it is far enough removed from Amaranthe that a magic system is unnecessary. Likewise, the technology fits somewhere in the flintlock category, but is not worth more than a few words at a time. The author instead focuses on showcasing her strengths: sympathetic characters and tight, plot-directed prose. The steam technology and esoteric magic are explored further, I hope, later in the series.
I recommend The Emperor’s Edge to readers who enjoy fast, character-driven stories and magic that influences, but does not dominate. The Emperor’s Edge is the first novel in a series of seven and is available for free in ebook format.