(self-published e-book 2010)
This was another recommendation from Erin at Aelia Reads (she recommended Please Ignore Vera Dietz, which I enjoyed), and which I downloaded for my Kindle along with a short story collection and the sequel. The Emperor’s Edge is set in the city of ‘Stumps’ in the Turgonian empire: the book begins with Corporal Amaranthe Lokdon, one of the very few female law enforcers, and her partner Corporal Wholt investigating a fire in the city. While upholding the law in a merchant’s shop, Amaranthe encounters the young emperor, Sespian, but she and Wholt are soon pulled off the fire investigation for more “appropriate” clean-up duties very soon; later that day she’s sent to Commander of the Armies Hollowcrest (who was also the emperor’s regent and is still probably the most powerful man in the empire). He wants her to kill the assassin Sicarius. Despite Sicarius being known to have killed more than five hundred people in the last five years, including a Satrap Governor, Amaranthe takes the assignment.
Though she fails in the assignment, she realises to her horror that she was meant to, and that Hollowcrest – and a shadowy group in the background – have some interest in harming the emperor, who’s more interested in architecture and studies than in the military conquest which has sustained the empire for centuries. Determined to find out what’s planned and to stop it, Amaranthe gathers together a motley crew of lowlifes to undertake a counterfeiting operation, while they investigate the plot and try to stop it.
The world-building is excellently done – sufficiently detailed so that one can envisage the environs, but not so detailed that it overwhelms the plot. There are a few steampunk elements, but not many, and a bit of magic (though the Turgonians officially deny its existence), but they add to the atmosphere rather than being major parts of the story. Amaranthe is an excellent protagonist – she’s a strong, intelligent woman in a largely man’s world (though Turgonian women are allowed to be and many are excellent businesswomen), but the reader sees enough from her point of view that she’s not masculine in any way. The devising of her scheme and the finding of her comrades is both amusing and shows how her leadership skills develop: it doesn’t seem at all unrealistic. She’s credibly slower and weaker than most men, though they often underestimate her because she’s a woman. She shows commendable quickness in devising escape plans, which is needed, although she’s sometimes a little naïve.
I like this example of her quick – lateral – thinking in an emergency:
Amaranthe bent her legs, drew her shoulder back, and hurled her sword with all her strength. Reflexively, both men lifted their blades to block. As soon as they realized her weapon would not touch them, they burst into chortles.
The men were not her targets.
Her sword crashed into the ceiling-high collection of coffee tins behind them. The stack exploded, full canisters pummelling the robbers. Metal thudded against skin and bone, and the men cursed as they flailed, tripped, and inevitably toppled. One hit his head on the counter as he went down, and did not move when he landed. The other fell, scrambled to rise, slipped on a canister, and cracked his chin on the tile floor.
There are other nice touches, too, of the monumental architecture, the ice-houses, and the bickering between Amaranthe and her comrades, not to mention the very different settings they visit during their scheme ranging from the rookeries of criminal gangs to exclusive parties to male escort agencies! Sicarius is perhaps a little too much the invincible assassin, but Buroker gives realistic reasons for this, and indicates that he has to train hard to maintain this ability.
Although a self-published production, the book is generally well-edited and proofed, and the formatting has only a few errors – nothing significant. It’s an example to other e-books, in that respect. The only problem I had with the prose style is that occasionally some words are used which aren’t strictly correct: “…assassinations circumnavigated justice…” for example (loc. 392) where it should probably be “circumvented”. But these are minor quibbles: I enjoyed the book a lot and am looking forward to the sequel, Dark Currents.