Dark Currents by Lindsay Buroker
I loved The Emperor’s Edge, so I dug into Dark Currents almost immediately. Dark Currents picks up where The Emperor’s Edge left off–Amaranthe and Co. are still criminals with hearts of…ugh, gold. Maybe. And only when Amaranthe is in charge. They’ve moved into a pump house and are ‘staying low key’ while simultaneously trying to gain recognition for their ‘good’ (and often bungled) deeds.
The characters are really making this series fly for me. You’ve got Amaranthe, who is the team leader, and her POV is the prominent one. Unlike in Emperor’s Edge, Books, the professor/librarian with the least convincing reason to join a criminal group, is the other POV in Dark Currents. I loved Sespian’s POV, so I was a bit disappointed to get Books instead, and while Books has a romantic subplot with the new character, Vonsha, I wasn’t as connected or invested in their relationship like I was with the one between Amaranthe and Sespian. Books was also the character that I thought the least interesting in The Emperor’s Edge, so I wasn’t excited about his POV. This is, however, setting up a trend of highlighting different characters on the team in the next several books. The upside of the Books POV is that we get to see his developing (and often hilarious) relationship with series character MVP Maldynado. That was the biggest improvement in Dark Currents–it’s a lot funnier than the initial installment. The team has more chemistry together, and Books and Maldynado get their own buddy cop style moments, and I loved all of them from the beginning where they investigate the dead bodies all the way to when they’re ingloriously lying their way into visiting Vonsha. The other big development is that the story touches on the Sicarius/Amaranthe relationship long before I thought it would. They get some moments together to discuss the unique and weird status of their partnership and not-quite-friendship and even-less-existant-romance. These are touching scenes, and they underlay the tension in the final chapters of the book. Without those small moments, Sicarius’s final ploy wouldn’t seem such a betrayal.
There’s such deep world building going on in Dark Currents, too, but it’s not highlighted often. Instead, the world building is the solid backbone upon which these characters are the attached ribs. You don’t notice the spine of the story, which is fine, and it keeps the slower moments in Dark Currents from collapsing. There’s tension from foreigners entering the empire, and when bodies wash into the city and the water supplies are poisoned, it looks like foreign enemies of the empire are to blame. Amaranthe and Co. travel to the countryside to discover what (and who) has poisoned the water source. What they find is magic (ahem…the mental sciences) is to blame, and the shamans that built the devices have a personal grudge against (you probably guessed it by now) Sicarius because everyone but Amaranthe hates him. The plot isn’t as great, and it struggles from slower moments, but there’s a cohesion between characters and world building that keeps the mundane details like property values and water poisoning interesting. There is just enough that happens between Amaranthe and her team (and introducing the new character, Yara, another–the first!–female sergeant) to keep this story rolling along and establishing itself as a long-term and need-to-finish series.
Rating: 5 stars, despite some sophomore slump in pace