The Emperor’s Edge by Lindsay Buroker
I love stories about athletic women. It’s a serious sweet spot for me, and Amaranthe is competent and strong from the start. She’s written with enough vulnerability that she doesn’t feel like a generic action girl.
There was also a certain vulnerability to Sespian that I liked, too. Incredibly earnest and a bit goofy, he genuinely wants to make the world a better place, which makes rooting for him against his advisers easy. I also dug Sespian’s crush because it felt teenage boy real. The theme of my reading week has been ‘awkward crushes’, and unfortunately, this plot ends up on the metaphorical backburner.
The world of The Emperor’s Edge is going to interest a lot of you. It has this neo-Roman quasi-American feel to it. There is the Emperor and a strong military presence with a strict caste system. One of the main conflicts is between the military and the business class, and while there’s some touching on the Turgonian Empire’s foreign issues and wars, it’s largely left untouched in the first book. Amaranthe is an Enforcer, part of the military, but she’s unusual in that she’s a woman, which aren’t usually recruited to the military. This makes Amaranthe an easy scapegoat when the notorious assassin, Sicarius, returns prior to the emperor’s birthday, and someone needs to be blamed for his assassination (or more likely, needs to be sent to get murdered by him). Amaranthe unwittingly has a token from Sespian with her, which allows Sicarius to take an interest in her, and then she returns to the Enforcers, and then, she’s tortured in a secret, underground bunker, and then she’s left for dead…and it’s only the first fourth of the book. My biggest complaint is that this book never slows down, and I thought the plot in the later part of the book (Amaranthe trying to crash the economy through counterfeiting) would be boring compared to the action-packed first half, but it wasn’t.
The counterfeiting plot introduces us to the other members of Amaranthe’s ‘team’. This is where I was hooked. I freaking love stories with odd-ball teams and ragtag misfits, and I ended up caring for (and enjoying) most of these characters and their illegal adventures together. Books is kind of the most boring character, even though he’s recruited first, but then we get the #1 comic relief, Maldynado, who’s a self-worker/rich boy/lazy-disinherited-son. If this book had only included Amaranthe, Sicarius (well-written enough to be interesting…it’s hard to do that with more taciturn characters), Sespian, and Maldynado, it would’ve been a good book, but there’s an ex-gang member/illegal magic user and former slave/pit-fighter in the mix, too.
What I really loved about this story (and am continuing to enjoy about this series) is that there are little scenes that really stick in my mind and tug at my heart. There is a lot of complexity to this story (hey, world-builder fans, you’ll love it!), but there are also these well-crafted personal moments. For example, Amaranthe and Sespian’s flirting is adorable, and I was all about their meet-cute. Amaranthe’s mission with Maldynado to the fighting pit was truly heart-breaking, and there’s a moment where she feels so strongly for the slaves and realizes what a horror the business villain organization, Forge, is in the larger scheme of the world. Then, there’s The Big Reveal (and no, I’m not spoiling that because it’s not what you think it is and it’s worth it), which is the moment I was waiting for the entire novel. There’s no ‘neat’ wrap-up in this novel (it is the first of a series), but Emperor’s Edge successfully launches a set of characters into a complex world. (And yes, I am reading more.)
Rating: 5 stars. There is so much here, but the plot and characters are all genuinely interesting. It’s action packed without feeling like it’s cheating you on emotional moments. Sign me up for more.