Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Book review: The Emperor's Edge, books 1–5

A few months ago I downloaded a free book to my Kindle. The cover caught my eye, and since it was free, I thought 'Why not?'. Of course, because it was free, I didn't read it right away. (Which I am very glad about, because at the time there were only four books in the series, and book 4 ends on a huge cliffhanger!)

The book is called The Emperor's Edge, and it is the first book in a series of the same name, by author Lindsay Buroker.

Anyway, last week I listened to a podcast interview with Lindsay Buroker over at The Creative Penn, and after hearing her talk about her books, I decided to give The Emperor's Edge a go. What followed was a five-day period in which I neglected to answer emails, get proper sleep and (gasp!) check Twitter because I was too busy reading.

The Emperor's Edge series is about a group rather like 'Robin Hood and his Merry Men'; misunderstood misfits who want to do good and help the Emperor, except the pesky bounties on their heads keep getting in the way. It is set in an industrial era secondary world with fantastical elements (magic, etc.). The group includes a female ex-enforcer (police officer); an assassin with an unparallelled work ethic; a womanising dandy with a near-unbeaten duelling record; an ex-alcoholic scholar with a tragic past; a mute ex-slave; and a punk kid with lots of magical talent but very little magical experience. The first three books each chronicle this group fixing a relatively stand-alone problem, although there is an overarching plot linking the three adventures together. Several months pass between each of these books. Books four, five, and the upcoming book 6 are a trilogy covering the same adventure, and book five, at least, started straight after the cliffhanger at the end of book 4.

These books are a lot of fun to read. This crazy band of misfits, however well intentioned, have more success blowing things up and causing mayhem than anything else. They destroy mansions, they destroy trains, they destroy underwater bases, they crash dirigibles . . . and garbage trucks . . . Except for a stolen police truck, not a single mode of transport that they acquire makes it to the end of the current book still in their possession and in one piece.

The books are character-focussed. Most of the plot hangs on an awkward and angsty little tangle of interpersonal relationships (not quite a love triangle, but more awkward than one because of who is involved in it). Although my credibility was initially stretched in this regard, particularly in the second book when our heroine was acting rather immature, Lindsay hit her stride portraying this relationship in the third book and I have been invested in it ever since.

The world-building is weaker than the character-building. All the places the characters visit are vivid and well described, but the reader is given very little idea of what is 'over the next hill'.

There are some problems I had with the books, especially the first two. There was one rather eye-rolling occurrence of hero-saves-the-girl-from-being-raped; and, as mentioned earlier, in the second book the heroine's behaviour made me think of some of the more stupid things I said around guys I liked when I was too young to know better. But even if these problems were mistakes, they helped to portray the main character's growth. By the fourth book Amaranthe is far too badass to cower and wait to be saved, and she's mature enough to begin to deal with the relationship she is in.

Occasionally I was jolted out of the story by an unusual typo or misuse of a word, such as 'accept' being used instead of 'except'. Although Lindsay Buroker hired an editor to help her clean up the books, my guess is that she did not also hire a proofreader.

Other than these few problems, I found the books engaging, addictive, and enjoyable. They are an example of an indie author who has worked hard to establish her niche and her brand, and whose works have rapidly caught up to the quality level of traditionally published books in the fantasy genre.

All five books are available from the main eBook retailers.

No comments: