Monday, 7 January 2013

Fantasy Review: 'Dark Currents' by Lindsay Buroker

This is the second in the ‘Emperor’s Edge’ series of steam-punk fantasy adventures with Amaranthe the female cop and her unlikely bunch of sidekicks. They're more at the entertaining romp end of the fantasy spectrum, and it probably doesn't pay to look too closely at the precise details of the plot, a fairly ramshackle affair which would fail any logic test, so anyone looking for great insight into the human condition or gritty realism should probably move swiftly on. But light-hearted fun is fine by me, and this delivers by the (steam powered) truck load.

Amaranthe and her pals are still avoiding the long arm of the law after the misunderstandings of the first book, but trying meanwhile to curry favour with the emperor by carrying out helpful clean-up operations on the less reputable elements of the city. So even though they spend their time breaking and entering, snooping around and trying (not always successfully) not to kill anybody, they are really on the side of the law. Sort of.

The characters are rather a fun, if motley, collection. Amaranthe herself, once a rare female enforcer (cop) before she became a wanted woman, is a fine feisty heroine, not afraid to lead from the front, constantly getting into scrapes as a result but usually managing to get herself out of them again, by ingenuity rather than brute force. Rather charmingly, she believes that almost any situation, no matter how dire, can be resolved by talking things through. And she doesn't scream. I like her. Sicarius the ice-cold trained-from-birth assassin is an unlikely comrade-in-arms, and he is too often used as a get-out-of-jail-free card, turning up in the nick of time to effect a rescue for one character or another. I don't really see why bouncy, friendly Amaranthe has the hots for him, rippling muscles or no, but there you go. The rest of the bunch - the narcissistic Maldynado, the studious Books, the aspiring mage Akstyr and the outsider Basilard - are there to fill in the gaps and provide comic relief. Fans of Books will be pleased by his rather sweet little romance.

There’s a certain amount of world-building in this book, and we see more of the technological capabilities of the empire. There are a few snippets of information about the world’s history, too. There is also more magic, and I have to be honest here and say that this is not a fully-developed Sanderson-esque magic system. It’s more a matter of whatever would lead to a particularly dramatic moment turns out to be something the shaman/villain can do. But there's no real attempt to create a believable in-depth secondary world here, and everything is sacrificed to a witty bit of banter between the sidekicks. Anyone who would be disgruntled to find a character saying "Yo, boss!" should probably not be reading this book.

The action increases, with our heroes getting into more and more difficulties, and the obstacles are almost insuperable, until... well, you can probably guess how it turns out. This is not the realistic gritty style of fantasy, but then it doesn’t pretend to be. It sets out to entertain and amuse, with a sprinkling of oh-my-goodness-how-will-they-escape dramatics, and it does it extremely well. An enjoyable, fun read. Four stars.

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