Review: Battle Bond by Lindsay Buroker

Review: Battle Bond by Lindsay BurokerBattle Bond (Death Before Dragons #2) by Lindsay Buroker
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Death Before Dragons #2
Pages: 316
Published by Lindsay Buroker on March 14, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

If you think having one dragon around messes up your life, imagine what it’s like when a second one shows up.

I’m Val Thorvald, assassin of magical bad guys and tenuous ally to the dragon lord Zav.

He still calls me a mongrel and thinks I’m a criminal, but he healed my wounds after we fought those dark elves together. That’s progress, right? Maybe one day, he’ll deign to use my name.

Not that this is my primary concern. I’m busy with a new assignment. Nin, the awesome lady who makes my magical weapons, has a werewolf problem. Specifically, sleazy loser werewolf competitors who want to drive her out of business. Or worse.

Normally, a couple of werewolves wouldn’t be a big deal, but these ones have powerful allies. And then there’s that new dragon.

It turns out he’s one of Zav’s enemies, and he wants to use me against him.

I don’t know why he’s picking on me—it’s not like I mean something to Zav—but somehow I’ve gotten stuck in the middle of dragon politics. If you think that sounds like a nightmare, you’re right.

If I can’t figure out a way to help my friend with the werewolves while keeping these dragons from tearing me apart, we’re both going to end up flatter than the deck chairs when Zav lands on the roof of my apartment building.

My Review:

After falling into the first book in this series, Sinister Magic, earlier this month, I was on pins and needles waiting for Val’s second outing to arrive on my ereader. And Battle Bond generally did not disappoint.

Even if I haven’t figured out the title yet. I’m saying that because I just realized what the “sinister magic” of the first title referred to. I wasn’t having much luck with understanding the series title either, until I read a bit of background posted on the author’s site and she explained it was all about Val’s perspective, that she would prefer to be dead rather than become a dragon’s pawn or thrall.

Not that she doesn’t keep ending up in just that position – but she gets better. Also her own personal dragon, while still copping a smug and superior attitude that should get him a slap upside the head, is, not exactly mellowing, but becoming a bit less unbearable.

Particularly in comparison to the dragon that has come to our Earth in order to bait, annoy and try to kill Val’s good frenemy, the dragon Zavryd. A dragon who really doesn’t like it when Val refers to him as Zav.

The story in Battle Bond picks up immediately after the ending of Sinister Magic. Val’s government boss is still recovering from the magical cancer that the dark elves infected her with, and Val is still driving the government loaner Jeep that she requisitioned after Zav threw her old Jeep into the upper branches of a very tall tree.

In this outing, Val’s cases, as is probably going to turn out to be usual for her, intersect with a vengeance. Also with actual vengeance.

A dragon has come to Earth to harass Zav, for reasons that will probably become clear later in the series when we – and Val – know a whole lot more about dragon politics back on Zav’s homeworld.

Meanwhile this dragon is kidnapping children. And hikers. And eventually taking over large but remote government compounds, all as part of a twisted desire to put Zav off his game so that he can be eliminated. Possibly eliminating Val along the way.

But Val also has a case that she is taking pro bono. Her friend and magical weapons supplier Nin is being harassed by a pride of big cat shifters who want to drive her out of business. If they put her in the ground as part of that driving out they really don’t care.

Val, however, cares a LOT. She just has to find a way to convince an entire pride of over a dozen members and growing – also growling, that Val AND Nin are not to be messed with. Possibly by messing with them – permanently. Whether she’s supposed to or not.

Both cases prove to Val that none of the things she thought she wrapped up at the end of the first book are remotely done with her yet. And that she’s going to be ass-deep in dark elves AND dragons for the foreseeable future.

If she has one.

Escape Rating B+: I really, really like Val as a character. She has all kinds of doubts and fears, making her very human in spite of her half-elven parentage. She’s also got some really interesting quirks and a seriously problematic Achilles heel. She’s far, far from perfect, and she’d be the first to admit it.

That she has a therapist who can’t help but remind her of all the ways she’s failing herself just adds to the portrait of the kickass heroine as a flawed human being – whether or not she’s only half-human.

For the most part, Battle Bond is at the same breakneck-pace-with-occasional-pauses as the first book in the series. Val’s world, the mixture of the magical and the mundane that she has to navigate, is complicated by its resemblance to the world we know. Finding out what makes it different among the sameness requires some tricky and time-consuming but pace-slowing worldbuilding. Something that I’m generally for and complain about when I don’t get so I’m happy to see that investment here at the beginning.

At the same time there’s still quite a bit of setup over the first half of the book. But once this one gets going – once all of Val’s ducks have been completely knocked out of alignment and all of her plans have been subjected to Murphy’s Law, the entire thing kicks into very high gear.

I want to say that Val leaps out of the frying pan into the fire, but that’s not strictly true. Val is trying to do the right thing under some very difficult constraints – especially the constraint that the government for the most part refuses to acknowledge that magic exists and therefore doesn’t have much of an arsenal for dealing with or recovering from it. And that her mandate is to eliminate the threat to the human population while the dragon Zav’s mandate is to punish and rehabilitate evildoers from his realm who have come to Earth. It’s more like Val leaps out of the frying pan and the fire just appears – over and over and over.

There is a sense that Val spends a lot of this story as a chew toy being fought over by two dragons who both think of her as a MUCH lesser being but are more than happy to use her for their own ends. And that in spite of her stated desire to die rather than become a dragon’s pawn, she spends a lot of this installment being just that.

She does get better. For the most part. But this book does hint at an eventual romance between Val and Zav, and I’ll admit that so far I’m not there for it. It’s going to take a LOT of this author’s generally excellent worldbuilding and character development to get me there.

But I’ll be back next month for the third book in the series, Tangled Truths, to see just how that turns out!

Review: Sinister Magic by Lindsay Buroker

Review: Sinister Magic by Lindsay BurokerSinister Magic: An Urban Fantasy Dragon Series (Death Before Dragons) by Lindsay Buroker
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Death Before Dragons #1
Pages: 286
Published by Lindsay Buroker on February 28th 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

I’m Val Thorvald, and I’m an assassin.

When magical bad guys hurt people, I take care of them. Permanently.

This doesn’t make me popular with the rest of the magical community—as you can tell from the numerous break-ins and assassination attempts I’ve endured over the years. But thanks to my half-elven blood, a powerful sword named Chopper, and a telepathic tiger with an attitude, I’ve always been able to handle my problems with aplomb. Maybe some cursing and swearing, too, but definitely aplomb.

That changes when my boss is afflicted with a mysterious disease, a government agent starts investigating me, and a godforsaken dragon shows up in the middle of my latest job.

I’ve taken down vampires, zombies, and ogres, but dragons are way, way more powerful. And it doesn’t look like this one is going to like me.

Worse than that, he wants to use his magic to compel me to do his bidding, as if I’m some weak-minded minion.

That’s not going to happen. I’d die before being some dragon’s slave.

But if I can’t figure out a way to avoid him, save my boss, and get rid of the government spook, I’m screwed. Or dead. Or screwed and dead. And that’s never comfortable.

Pick up Sinister Magic today to see if I make it. Even if you don’t care about me, I promise the tiger is cool.

My Review:

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a new urban fantasy series, let alone one that I couldn’t wait to dive into. Once upon a time, urban fantasy and its kissing cousin paranormal romance were everywhere, but now, not so much.

Not that there aren’t plenty of existing series that are still going strong, but new ones starting up aren’t nearly as prevalent as they used to be. And probably will be again, these things go in cycles.

But this book looked like catnip to me – and it certainly was. The first book in a new series by a fave author – and what looked to be a fascinating take on our world with a kickass heroine as combination tour guide (for the reader) and bounty hunter (for the bad guys, for select definitions of both bad and definitely guys.)

And dragons. Or rather one dragon. A dragon shifter at that. And one with a whole lot of self-important, superior asshole attitude that just begs our heroine to poke with a sword and a nasty attitude at every conceivable opportunity.

Once you’ve met “Lord” Zavryd, you’ll completely understand the attitude.

Our heroine is Val, a half-elven bounty hunter. She’s actually a government contractor whose job is to go after the weird and nasty. Or at lest the non-human weird an nasty. Working for the government involves dealing with an entirely different kind of nasty, as Val is reminded when her boss ends up hospitalized and under suspicion of a whole raft of criminal activity that she couldn’t possibly have had a hand in.

Val and that dragon cross paths over the not-yet-dead body of a wyvern who snacked on a bunch of kids. Val wants the animal put down with extreme prejudice and as much firepower as she can bring to bear – which is rather a lot.

Zavryd wants to bring the wyvern back to face the Dragon Justice Court. That wyvern has been a very bad creature in more places than just Earth. In the ensuing scuffle, argument and outright battle over exactly who has jurisdiction in this case, the wyvern gets dead, Val’s Jeep gets tossed into the upper reaches of a tree, and Zavryd decides that Val can pay him back by serving as “bait” for all of the miscreants who have fled justice and settled on Earth.

Even though Val’s combination friend, familiar, service animal and bodyguard, the majestic magical tiger Sindari, warns her not to aggravate the dragon, Val can’t help herself in the face of his smug, superior attitude – and face.

Not even when she needs his help – and a bit of his blood – to save a friend.

Escape Rating A-: I had a hell of a good time with Val – and especially Sindari. I know he’d hate my saying he’s just a big pussycat, but he is a very big pussycat. As well as a great friend and companion to Val, a deadly warrior in his own right, and extremely majestic. Sindari would definitely want me to include the majestic bit.

But there were elements of Sinister Magic I wasn’t necessarily expecting, some terrific, some a bit disconcerting.

I had read that it was kind of a big deal that Val wasn’t the usual 20something heroine. She’s 40 and has the emotional scars to prove it. Just not the physical ones. As a half elf, she heals faster and looks and feels much younger than her actual years and has the strength to go with that. So she’s not nearly as much like Marley Jacob from A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark as I would have liked to see.

But Val’s Seattle and Marley’s have a lot in common. Complete with denizens of the weird, wacky and extraterrestrial, including a giant monster in Puget Sound. The difference is that Marley’s monster is a dragon, where Val’s dragon is trying to kill her monster, in her case a kraken.

The urban fantasy world and hero that Val really reminds me of is Kai Gracen. Kai is also half-elven, also finds it blessing and curse in equal measure, is also a bounty hunter, and his world has a similar mixture of the magical, the monstrous and the mundane that Val’s does. So if you like Val you’ll probably like Kai as well.

They both also deal in a similar line of unrepentant snark. The difference is that Kai’s is more self-reflective, where Val’s snarkitude draws directly on contemporary pop culture in ways that bring a smile or a groan to the reader, as well as a huff of disgust from that dragon. He knows she’s backtalking him even when he doesn’t get the context.

As far as the story goes, this one is a wild ride from beginning to end, even though it does have to let up on the frenetic pace when it deals with the worldbuilding and Val’s backstory. In spite of this being an alternate version of the contemporary Pacific Northwest, it still take a fair amount of setup to get everything and everyone up to speed. This is all necessary to get the series off the ground, but something it does feel like it slows things down a bit too much.

YMMV

That being said, I like Val, and I was easily able to feel for where she was coming from on an emotional level, even though suppressing her emotions is the thing causing all the current stress in Val’s life. I’m not completely on board with Val’s sudden onset of asthma, not that it couldn’t happen, but that it seems psychosomatic – if it doesn’t turn out to be magic-induced – and just seemed to be a way to make her more physically vulnerable without really making her vulnerable.

And then there’s that dragon. At this point, I’m kind of hoping that this is not being set up as an eventual romance. Although if it is the author is going to have to do a ton of heavy lifting to turn Zavryd into a character who could really be Val’s romantic partner. Not that he isn’t tall, dark and sexy when he’s not being a dragon, but because at the moment he sees all non-dragons as vermin to be ignored or eradicated. That’s a hell of a lousy place from which to start a relationship. So if it happens I hope it’s not until a whole lot of water has passed under that particular bridge.

But I’m all in for this series. I like Val and her world, I found her government boss to be a great person, and the government shenanigans provided both comic relief and pathos as the Men in Black turn out to be completely incompetent while Val finds a miracle cure for magically-induced cancer. I want to see how the rest of the world shakes out in this variation of it.

So I’m looking forward to reading Battle Bond the minute it becomes available later this month!

Review: Forged in Blood II by Lindsay Buroker

Review: Forged in Blood II by Lindsay BurokerForged in Blood II (The Emperor's Edge, #7) by Lindsay Buroker
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, steampunk
Series: Emperor's Edge #7
Pages: 422
Published by Lindsay Buroker on July 17, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Amaranthe Lokdon survives her reckless plan to destroy the enemy’s weapon-filled super aircraft only to learn that thousands of people perished when it crash landed. Half of her team is missing...or dead. Meanwhile, the fighting in the capital has escalated, the Imperial Barracks have been taken by a pretender, and a deadly new danger threatens the populace. Amaranthe’s hopes of returning Emperor Sespian to the throne and bringing peace to the empire are dwindling by the hour.

To make matters worse, her strongest ally—and closest friend—has been captured and is under a powerful wizard’s control. If she can’t figure out a way to free Sicarius, he may kill them all when next they meet...

My Review:

Forged in Blood I ended at maximum cliffhanger, so I dove into Forged in Blood II the moment I finished it. It’s kind of impossible to stop at that point.

(Fair warning, this review will contain spoilers for Forged in Blood I. It would be equally impossible to talk at all about this book without talking about that book. They are pretty much one story, and everything that happens here is dependent on what happened there. Also, Captain Obvious being very obvious, don’t start the series here!)

Forged in Blood I ended at two parallel points with opposite results. Amaranthe has just crashed the Behemoth and wrecked untold destruction pretty much everywhere. She feels guilty beyond measure at the deaths she feels she is responsible for. And she might share in that responsibility but she certainly isn’t solely responsible – particularly considering that she never had any personal ability to control the airship/spacecraft in the first place.

But she walks away from the wreckage, believing all of her team are dead, only to shortly discover that so far, everyone she truly cares for managed to be someplace else.

On that other hand, Sicarius enters the ruins of the ship and finds what he believes are the remains of Amaranthe’s charred corpse. He believes that everyone he cares about, including Amaranthe and his son Sespian, are all dead in or under the crash. He tries to commit suicide-by-enemy in a grand fashion, only to be captured and mind-slaved by one of the many, many forces that is attempting to take control of the capital.

He doesn’t care – at least not too much. If his would-have-been-lover and his son are both dead, he is not unwilling to kill as many of those responsible for the situation as possible (he is an assassin, after all) before he finds a way to at least get himself killed if not take out the wizard controlling him in the process.

As Forged in Blood II opens, Amaranthe is working on multiple plans – as she always is – to eliminate the alien spaceship before even more nefarious things can be done with it, find a way to get some of their enemies to eliminate each other, and find out what happened to Sicarius and rescue him if necessary.

Sicarius has been given a list of people to kill, and he’s working his way down the list.

I would say that things go pear-shaped at this point, but they have been pear-shaped so long that the pear is starting to rot. This is a series where saying that our heroes jump out of the frying pan and into the fire doesn’t go nearly far enough. The entire series is pretty much fires and frying pans all the way down.

But this book is the end of the main story arc of the ENTIRE Emperor’s Edge series. They have to find the bottom in order for things to come to an appropriate close, and for all of the many, many threads to get tied up in a relatively neat bow.

Not nearly as neat a bow as Amaranthe the cleanliness obsessed would have liked. And the butcher’s bill needs to get paid. But in the midst of absolutely epic chaos, our heroes have to find a resolution that gets all of the many, many opposing forces out of the capitol.

And lets them midwife the birth of the republic that they having been aiming towards for much longer than any of them imagined.

Escape Rating A-: This is so obviously labeled book 2 of 2 that anyone who starts here needs to have their head examined. Just don’t. A part of me is wondering why Forged in Blood wasn’t simply published as one extremely long book – but there’s nothing stopping anyone from reading it that way now that both parts are available.

By this point in this long-running series a reader either loves the characters and the world enough to want to see how it all ends, or they don’t. Obviously, I did.

What made this series work for me was its play on the “five-man band” trope, even as Amaranthe’s little band of outlaws/rebels/revolutionaries grew past the original five. To the point where some of the roles are occupied by two or more members of her band of misfits.

Part of the fun in Forged in Blood II is that Amaranthe runs into someone who is even better at being the “leader” of such a group than she is. It’s both relaxing and unnerving for her to find herself again following someone else’s orders.

That the person whose orders she ends up following is someone who someone in his 60s and clearly still extremely badass is icing on the cake for any readers of a certain age, like moi. It’s always good to see evidence that heroes don’t need to be young to be extremely effective. Age and skill beats youth and stupidity all the damn time, and it’s fun to watch.

I also loved the way that the romance was handled in this series finale. It’s taken a year for Amaranthe to “humanize” the assassin Sicarius to the point where he might be able to have a relationship with anyone, Amaranthe included. At the same time, it was necessary for the events of that year for Amaranthe to have her bright, shiny, law-abiding edges tarnished a bit for her to be able to accept not just the person that Sicarius has become, but also the elements of the weapon that he was made to be that remain. Their romance has been excruciatingly slow-building throughout the series, but it needed to be. And the series couldn’t end without that thread being tied up – even if that tying literally included tying one or both of them to a bed. (Actually I’d pay money for that scene!)

Realistically, it would not be possible for a series that had this much adventure – including misadventure, in it without a butcher’s bill to be paid by the company. That price that they paid felt right, proper and necessary – and provided a much needed bit of poignancy to the ending.

This was a book where as I got nearer to the end I found myself slowing down. I wanted to find out how it ended, but I didn’t want to leave this world or these people. Lucky for me, the author didn’t either. There are two (so far) books set in this world after the end of Forged in Blood II. I’ll be picking up Republic the next time I have a long flight to read through. It’s 572 pages long – and I’m betting they’re all fantastic!

Review: Forged in Blood I by Lindsay Buroker

Review: Forged in Blood I by Lindsay BurokerForged in Blood I (The Emperor's Edge, #6) by Lindsay Buroker
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, steampunk
Series: Emperor's Edge #6
Pages: 378
Published by Lindsay Buroker on May 27, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The emperor has been ousted from the throne, his bloodline in question, and war is descending on the capital. Forge, the nefarious business coalition that has been manipulating the political situation from the beginning, has the ultimate weapon at its disposal.

If it was difficult for a small team of outlaws--or, as Amaranthe has decided they should now be called, rebels--to make a difference before, it's a monumental task now. If she's to return idealistic young Sespian to the throne, earn the exoneration she's sought for so long, and help her closest ally win the respect of the son who detests him, she'll have to employ an unprecedented new scheme...preferably without destroying the city--or herself--in the process.

My Review:

And now I remember why I stopped reading this series back in 2013. Not for any bad reasons, I assure you!

But back then, I raced through the first four books in the series (The Emperor’s Edge, Dark Currents, Deadly Games and Conspiracy), loving every one. I think I was about to pick up book 5, Blood and Betrayal, when I noticed that this book, book 6, was titled Forged in Blood I with the obvious implication that there would be a Forged in Blood II – as there turned out to be. But the titles strongly implied that this book wasn’t exactly complete in and of itself, and I decided that I didn’t want to read this until its second part came out.

Then I ran headlong into the “so many books, so little time” conundrum, and didn’t get the round ‘tuit for several years. I picked up Blood and Betrayal a few weeks ago, got right back into everything, loved it, and decided to read Forged in Blood on the long flight back home from Seattle.

It turns out that I assumed correctly. While Forged in Blood I does come to a logical conclusion, that conclusion is a screaming cliffhanger. I was still in mid-flight (Seattle to Atlanta is a LONG flight) and started in on Forged in Blood II with barely a pause for breath.

What we have here is what looks like the beginning of the end of this terrific saga. The story at this point is careening towards the conclusion of its original quest. Way, way back in The Emperor’s Edge, Corporal Amaranthe Lokdon of the Imperial law enforcers was given the assignment to hunt down the Empire’s most dangerous assassin, Sicarius.

It was intended to be a suicide mission. It certainly turned out to be a suicide mission for her career on the “right” side of the law.

But when she failed to capture Sicarius, she found herself a wanted criminal, at the core of a band of criminals, all of whom have bounties on their heads for crimes they either didn’t commit or acts of self-defense. Not that there isn’t a bit of criminality mixed in there, but for the most part, they aren’t guilty – or at least not guilty of much until they all end up on the run.

With both the assassin and the Emperor in their midst. But then, the Emperor hired them to kidnap him to save his from the so-called advisers who planned to have him assassinate. As a result, the people who wanted him dead are now after the entire gang – as well as the Empire itself.

So Forged in Blood I is the beginning of the end. Start with The Emperor’s Edge and get to know this amazingly awesome – just ask some of them – band of big damn heroes. And end this part of the story on pins and needles, not merely wondering but actively worrying whether all of them will get out of this caper alive.

Escape Rating A-: This is not the end. The, well, let’s call it an interim ending, is a hella cliffie. What makes it so gut-wrenching is that by this point in the series we know and love all of these people, and the way this book ends we fear for all of them in one way or another. It’s terrible, and wonderful, and you won’t be able to keep from diving into part 2 immediately.

At the beginning of the series, we had a band of petty criminals and wrongly accused political victims desperately trying to find a way to survive the many and various attempts on their lives and, most importantly, figure out a way to get pardoned by the Emperor.

Well, most of them want to get pardoned. Sicarius is guilty of every single thing he’s been accused of, and a few hundred more. He was, after all, the previous Emperor’s pet assassin – and he was damn good at his job.

He’s also, unbeknownst to everyone at the beginning, but an open secret by this point, the biological father of the current Emperor. The young and idealistic Emperor is having a difficult time processing it all – but his enemies plan to use the information to keep him from ever taking back his throne.

Because they want to install a puppet emperor and wring the kingdom dry.

There’s a lot of story to unpack by this point. Amaranthe, in particular, still wants a pardon but also wonders if there’s any way back from where this journey has taken her. As a law enforcer, she never believed the excuses of the ends justifying the means, but has discovered that when the ends are her own survival, discussions of means get left by the wayside until afterwards – when the guilt descends.

The young Emperor, Sespian, has been forced to grow up in a hurry while dodging bullets, bombs and even exploding airships. With him, and his idealism, among their party, the purpose of their journey has changed from pardons to revolution. Getting a close up view of just how screwed up the empire is for anyone not in power has inspired them all to invent a new form of government – a Republic. All they have to do is get enough power to push their reforms through – and then be willing to let that power go when they’re done.

Not an easy job. It’s what made the American experiment such a chancy thing at the time. That we have, at least so far, had regularly scheduled and orderly changes of power built into the system. (We’ll see how that goes in the future.)

What makes this series so much fun is the way that the band of misfits manages to work together, both because and in spite of their differences. This is a series where the snark, of which there is a lovely lot, is based on our knowledge of the characters and their knowledge of each other – not on jokes per se. A lot of that humor is gallows humor, because even at the best of time they are only one step out of the frying pan and one jump away from the fire.

This is a series where the worldbuilding has gotten deeper as it goes, as have the chasms that our heroes must leap across in order to stay alive and one step ahead of their many, many pursuers. The pace never lets up – leaving the reader breathless with anxiety and anticipation at the end.

I couldn’t wait to start Forged in Blood II, and so far it’s every bit as good as the rest of the series. We’ll see for certain in next week’s review!

Review: Blood and Betrayal by Lindsay Buroker

Review: Blood and Betrayal by Lindsay BurokerBlood and Betrayal (The Emperor's Edge, #5) by Lindsay Buroker
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, science fiction, steampunk
Series: Emperor's Edge #5
Pages: 374
Published by Lindsay Buroker on December 3, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The last thing Maldynado Montichelu—former aristocrat and current ladies' man—ever wanted was to be left in charge. After all, the team just blew up a train, crashed a dirigible, and kidnapped the emperor. It's kind of an important time.

But, with Amaranthe captured by the nefarious Forge coalition, and Sicarius off to find her, the team is lacking in leaders. Also, Sicarius has made it clear that Maldynado’s life may be forfeit should anything happen to the emperor while he’s gone.

To make matters worse, Forge’s cutthroats are after Sespian, and the young emperor believes Maldynado's loyalties are suspect. As if it’s his fault that his older brother is working with the coalition to usurp the throne. If Maldynado can’t figure out how to earn the emperor’s trust quickly, Sespian will go off to confront their powerful enemies on his own.

Meanwhile, Amaranthe must find a way to escape from the coalition’s newest ally, Master Interrogator Pike, a man who plans to pull all of the secrets from her head, one way or another…

Blood and Betrayal is the fifth novel in The Emperor’s Edge series.

My Review:

Welcome to this week’s second entry in the “long time no see” series. Otherwise known as the “ how big a fool I was to stop reading this” series.

Back in 2013 I started the Emperor’s Edge series by Lindsay Buroker, and fell headlong into her blend of fantasy, steampunk and SF. I also fell in love with her endlessly snarky five-man band of characters – even though the band eventually encompassed more than five characters, male or otherwise.

For a series that is set in a fantasy world that has elements of both steampunk and “pure” SF, the group dynamics of Amaranth Lokdon’s crew have the feel of the best sword-and-sorcery, you know the type where the hero and his sidekick slice and snark their way through a world that seems to be out to get them at every turn.

Amaranthe’s gang certainly is paranoid, but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t out to get them. As is certainly shown in this fifth entry in the series, Blood and Betrayal. And yes, there’s plenty of both within the pages of this thrill-a-minute story.

When last we left our heroes, five years ago and at the end of Conspiracy, Amaranthe had just been thrown out of the dirigible the gang had commandeered. In mid-flight. Of course.

As Blood and Betrayal opens, the gang is kind of in the same position that Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are in at the opening of The Two Towers – minus the death of Boromir (or his equivalent).

The remaining members of Amaranthe’s merry band of tricksters all want to find her and rescue her. But they are already in the middle of a mission to pretend to kidnap the young Emperor Sespian and uncover the plot to overthrow him – along with figuring out all of the other plans being hatched by the dangerous and mysterious group calling themselves Forge.

Sicarius, Amaranthe’s second-in-command, pet assassin and possible future lover, finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. He desperately needs to rescue Amaranthe. He equally desperately needs to keep the young Emperor safe – because unbeknownst to everyone except himself and Amaranthe, Emperor Sespian is his son.

And someone needs to lead the remaining members of the crew – because it’s dubious whether they’re remotely capable of leading themselves anywhere except into yet another disaster. But in order to save Amaranthe he’ll have to trust them anyway – with not just their own continued existence, but with the life of the son he doesn’t dare acknowledge.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire, out of the torture chamber and into a subterranean sub rosa meeting to overthrow the empire. With deadly alien machines chasing them every step of the way.

It’s all in a day’s work – at least until the ocean crashes in.

Escape Rating A: It’s been 5 years since I read the previous book in this series, but as soon as I started this one (admittedly after re-reading my reviews of the previous four) I fell right back into this world and was just as caught up in the interpersonal dynamics of this terrifically odd assortment of people as I was back then.

Not that I’m planning to wait another five years to read the next books in the series. I was reminded of just how much I loved this gang and now that I’m back I can’t wait to keep going. I will say that now that I’m listening to books more again I really wish that the next books had been recorded (the first five have been) so that I could listen while I drive and workout. The level of snarkitude of these folks would make this a perfect series to distract me on the treadmill.

The heart of this series is the character of Amaranthe Lokdon herself. As one of the members of her crew puts it, Amaranthe is the glue that holds the group together. None of them would have ever had much to do with one another, but over the course of the series they have run into her and gotten themselves stuck both to her and to each other.

This particular entry in the series has the challenge of keeping Amaranthe’s “glue” front and center while she herself is a tortured captive elsewhere and Sicarius is tracking her captors so that he can rescue her – if he can get there in time.

With Amaranthe and Sicarius out of the immediate picture, the perspective on the remaining gang’s part of the story shifts to Maldynado the disowned nobleman whose family just might be behind the conspiracy to overthrow the empire. Not that Maldynado knows anything about what they’re doing – they disowned him years ago.

With his reputation as a fop – a reputation he encourages at every turn – Maldynado finds it difficult to take charge of anything. His actions in this story give him a surprising chance to step out from Amaranthe’s comfortable shadow to stand in the light for a change – a position from which he generally gets shot at. A not uncommon scenario for everyone in Amaranthe’s orbit!

This is a story that takes its turns into dark places – and into the backgrounds of more of its characters in ways that explore what brought them to these circumstances. At the same time, it’s a roller coaster ride of a story that never lets up until the train – in this case the steamroller – pulls into a sharp breaking stop at the end of the ride.

But the fun’s not over yet. There’s more to come in Forged in Blood. There’s no way I’m waiting five more years to see what happens next!