Saturday, 29 March 2014

Steampunk Review: 'Beneath The Surface' by Lindsay Buroker

Beneath the Surface (The Emperor's Edge, #5.5)

This is part of the Emperor’s Edge series, a novella that fits squarely between part 5, ‘Blood and Betrayal’, and the two-part finale, ‘Forged in Blood’. Those who’ve read any of the series will know exactly what to expect: seemingly small events rapidly escalate into madcap chaos, increasingly impossible-to-get-out-of situations and an implausible number of fights, explosions, wrecked vehicles and other general mayhem. Given the inventive steampunk setting, mixed with some more advanced technology (post-apocalypse? or alien? not sure, but it doesn’t really matter), the series is an entertaining riot, where the reader simply can’t imagine what might be round the next corner.

Or perhaps I should say: what’s round the next bend in the river, because for this outing the team is aboard a paddle steamer, leading inevitably to equipment and people splashing overboard, diving into cabins to avoid being seen, climbing between decks by hopping over railings and hiding away in funnels. Oh, you didn’t think hiding in funnels was inevitable in fantasy? Well, in a Buroker novel, expect the unexpected (and you’d be surprised what characters can get up to while suspended inside a funnel – well, I was surprised).

The characters are, as always, the high spot of the book. However serious and potentially fatal the situation, former Enforcer Amaranthe’s unlikely bunch of heroes can be depended upon to carry on sniping playfully at each other and tossing out witty asides as they go. No matter how ludicrous the plot (and, let’s be honest, you just have to switch off the logical part of your brain altogether for this sort of caper), the jokes made me laugh out loud more times than I can remember. The author gets the tone just right, too. In the previous book, the way Amaranthe and iceman assassin Sicarius inched towards an understanding was note perfect. In this book, it’s Maldynardo who has his delicate little romance reach fruition and given Maldynardo’s constant flirting and outright skirt-chasing, the temptation to ham it up must have been almost irresistable. But no, every moment between Maldynardo and his lady was perfection. Beautifully judged.

For anyone who’s read the first five books in the series, this is the perfect palate-cleanser before the final course. If you liked the others, you’ll enjoy this one too. I liked that recaps of the previous books are dropped in effortlessly, so that I never had to struggle to remember what happened. And the background plot is warming up nicely. For me, the relentlessly ramped-up action gets a bit wearing after a while (I like my fantasy just a tad more realistic than that), but I have to admire the author’s ability to develop her characters and their relationships just enough to maintain interest while never losing sight of their basic personalities. A good three stars.

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