I was going to use this blog post to talk about self-publishing, because The Emperor’s Edge happens to be the first self-published book I have read.
But really, who cares?
Ultimately, like all books, self-published books should be judged on their merits. I can’t resist talking a little bit about self-publishing in Part 2 of this post, but I’ll try and be fair to Lindsay Buroker by concentrating first and most importantly on the book itself.
A word of warning - the subtitle of The Emperor’s Edge is “a high fantasy mystery in an era of steam.” As a mystery reader myself, I think calling it a mystery is probably mistaken, and I doubt this book would appeal to mystery fans. Fantasy and steam are the two key words here.
The book opens with Corporal Amaranthe Lokdon (an “enforcer” or police officer) being called to the scene of a fire. We learn that in the world of the book women dominate business, but are excluded from other roles, and Amaranthe’s role as the first female enforcer has caused some friction. The fire kicks of a series of events that forces Amaranthe to go on the run and assemble a group of misfits on a mission to save the emperor.
In terms of plot, the book is well-paced but the plot itself seems underdeveloped in places. It is possible that Buroker has left some aspects to be developed further in a sequel or series, but there are a few too many unexplained incidences for my liking.
Rather than plot, the strength of this book is its characters. A more hard-nosed reviewer would probably say that they lack originality. But they are just so damn likeable! Amaranthe is a painfully honest school-prefect type at the beginning of the book, but she gradually changes as she discovers that people in authority aren’t always right. She’s a nerd and a dag in the best way, someone who stubbornly refuses to compromise her values. Unlike too many fantasy novels, she is not beautiful, or endowed with special strengths. As a character I found her incredibly endearing. The other characters are less well fleshed out, and many of Amaranthe’s team appear to be there primarily for comic relief. However, they redeem themselves by being laugh-out-loud funny, The hunky male-model type without much of a brain is comic gold.
The other important component of a book such as this is the setting. Buroker does a relatively good job of setting the scene gradually, without dumping too much world-building information onto the reader. However as a whole it somehow failed to convince me. Perhaps it is because I haven’t really engaged with t he steampunk movement, but to me this felt a lot like standard fantasy with added steam. One issue that left me uncomfortable was the use of magic in a book that is supposed to be based on the pseudo-scientific principles of steampunk. Although it was dressed up as “mental sciences” it seemed primarily there in order to facilitate certain elements of the plot. I think it would have been a better book if Buroker had been able to devise ways to move the story forward without this additional element to confuse matters.
So ultimately, would I recommend this book? I have read some truly bad (traditionally published) fantasy in my time and this was certainly not in that category. It was an enjoyable read and I would like to spend more time with the characters and see how Buroker fleshes out their world. If there is a sequel, I will probably buy it. It’s not in my list of top books of all time, but fo the price of a cup of coffee I spent an entertaining few hours.