Fantasy Review Barn
This is the third of the ‘Emperor’s Edge’ series, featuring former enforcer (cop) Amaranthe and her motley band of outlaws cum undercover agents - Sicarius the assassin, Maldynado the ladies’ man, Books the scholar, Akstyr the learner mage and Basilard the former slave wrestler. The steampunk setting is, as always, a nicely drawn backdrop and convenient plot device, so that one of the events in the games of the title is the clank race, where contestants compete on a mechanical (and rather unpleasant) obstacle course. As usual, there’s a mysterious series of events for the team to investigate in the hope of ingratiating themselves with the young emperor, and restoring themselves to respectability. There are also some ongoing backstories, and the author is brilliant at reminding the reader of past details at just the right moment, and without it ever feeling contrived. If only all authors were so skilled.
This is a million miles from the gritty realism end of fantasy. The characters are just the right side of caricature, and the plot - well, it really doesn’t matter. It rolls along nicely, a jolly adventure that is always one wobbly step away from disaster but never quite teeters over the brink. It’s predictable in the sense that the eventual outcome is never in any real doubt, but there’s a huge tangle of twists and turns along the way, most emanating from the fertile (if not always sensible) imagination of Amaranthe. You’ve got to love a character who never fails to have a hairbrained idea, however dire the circumstances. There are moments when it’s tempting to pause and think - how on earth did they get into this situation? And how can they possibly get out of it? There are times, too, when it all got a little bit over the top. The amount of punishment the characters manage to take, the number of armed and/or magic-wielding opponents they tackle simultaneously, and the sheer number of problems they encounter, all of it becomes just a little too cartoonish sometimes. And then there’s another brilliant bit of humour, and I just don’t care. In the end, it’s the characters who matter, and the funny, tetchy and even (occasionally) affectionate moments between them that make these books so wonderful. Even Sicarius the ice-cold assassin gets some bonding with Basilard, and... and... no, it can’t be... is that a romantic interlude with Amaranthe? Well, sort of, maybe.
For anyone looking for a light read, with plenty of action and huge dollops of witty banter between the characters, this fits the bill beautifully. These books are just so entertaining, it’s all too easy to think - just another chapter, and then another, and perhaps just one more... The book equivalent of a box of chocolates. Lovely stuff. Four stars.