Tag Archives: fantasy

Once Upon a Time VIII

onceup8275Carl does some of the best reading events around. I’ve participated in his R.I.P. challenge for two (three?) years running now, and this year I’ve decided to jump into his Once Upon a Time challenge, which asks readers to 1. Have fun! and 2. Participate by reading as few or as many books as they want that fall into one of the following broad categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology.

My plan is to join in by reading at least one book in any of the four categories as well as hopefully participating in the read-along of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in June.

I’m not sure yet exactly what I’ll be reading, with the exception of Violet Kupersmith’s The Frangipani Hotel, which I’m reviewing later this week. This is a book of short stories based on Vietnamese folk tales, so it segues nicely with the challenge.

If you have recommendations of books I should consider reading for Once Upon a Time, please feel free to let me know in the comments!

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The Emperor’s Edge by Lindsay Buroker

I feel like I’ve been talking about this book for weeks now, even though I’ve only just now finished it. I discovered it after reading a glowing review over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and as they don’t post a lot of ‘A’ reviews, I knew it would be worth checking out.  The Emperor’s Edge is actually the first in a series (yes, I know, I have a weakness for them) and it’s available as a free e-book download, so if you like the sound of it you can read it for yourself!

The cover of the book has a subtitle which reads ‘A High Fantasy Novel in an Era of Steam’.  I must admit that I had to look up an explanation of what is considered High Fantasy, and although I’d heard about steampunk I hadn’t read any and wasn’t really comfortable with the concept.  I asked my husband, who reads a lot of fantasy, to explain it to me.  His reply was, “It’s not a genre.  It’s a technology.” Okay.

Seeing that I was going to have to muddle through on my own, I started the book with a bit of trepidation.  But any concerns I had about not “getting it” were quickly allayed, because there’s nothing not to get.  This is just good writing–a straightforward, tightly-plotted storyline, a likeable heroine leading a cast of well-drawn, interesting characters, and enough satisfying twists and turns to hold my attention to the end of the book and beyond, as I definitely want to read more.

From Goodreads:

Imperial law enforcer Amaranthe Lokdon is good at her job: she can deter thieves and pacify thugs, if not with a blade, then by toppling an eight-foot pile of coffee canisters onto their heads. But when ravaged bodies show up on the waterfront, an arson covers up human sacrifices, and a powerful business coalition plots to kill the emperor, she feels a tad overwhelmed.

Worse, Sicarius, the empire’s most notorious assassin is in town. He’s tied in with the chaos somehow, but Amaranthe would be a fool to cross his path. Unfortunately, her superiors order her to hunt him down. Either they have an unprecedented belief in her skills… or someone wants her dead.

I think I was most surprised by the unexpected amount of humor there is in the book.  Buroker really plays with her characters. Watching them form unexpected alliances, plot and scheme, and fight their way out of difficult situations is a lot of fun, even as there are quite serious issues of loyalty, family, trust, and treason underlying the plot. Amaranthe is a wonderful character–brave, plucky and inspiring to those around her.  She is a natural born leader, and seeing this quality in a female heroine was refreshing.

Sicarius makes a perfect foil to Amaranthe’s idealism, as he is anything but idealistic.  We get more of his backstory as the story progresses, but from the beginning he is an enigmatic character, stoical and ruthless.  Only in his relationship with Amaranthe do we start to get a glimpse that there is more to the man than the stone wall he presents to the world.

As for the steampunk aspect of the book, it is treated very lightly.  The world is powered by gas and steam, and although a few references to particular steam-powered items made me go “what?” (a steam-powered cement mixer? Seriously?), mostly it didn’t seem too out of place or difficult to accept. I’ll have to read more steampunk to figure out what it’s really all about.

All in all, a highly-recommended read!

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