Review: Mercenary Instinct by Ruby Lionsdrake

mercenary instinct by ruby lionsdrakeFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Mandrake Company #1
Length: 248 pages
Publisher: self-published
Date Released: October 10, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Skulking around in the ruins on a planet swarming with treasure hunters, slavers, and bounty hunters isn’t good for one’s health. But Ankari Markovich needs a few archaeological samples for her latest business venture, a venture that might prove lucrative enough to move her family off the impoverished planet where she grew up. Unfortunately, she has no sooner collected her samples than she’s captured by a band of brawny mercenaries. The captain might be handsome, but he’s intent on turning her over to some finance lord who has, for reasons unknown, put a bounty on her head, a ridiculously large one at that. If she can’t figure out a way to escape before she’s delivered to the lord’s home world, she could be forced into a life of indentured servitude—or worse.

Captain Viktor Mandrake doesn’t usually take on piddling bounty hunting gigs, but when his intelligence officer informs him of a criminal on a nearby planet, he decides it wouldn’t hurt to take a shuttle down to collect the woman. But Ankari Markovich is trouble from the start, nearly eluding his elite forces, then fighting and tricking his people left and right. He finds himself admiring her spirit, but according to her warrant, she’s a criminal. The safest thing is to keep her in the brig and ignore her until she can be handed off to the man who wants her.

But the situation grows more complicated when other bounty hunters show up, wanting to claim Ankari for themselves. Thanks to this woman, Viktor’s ship is in danger, his crew members are going missing, and he’s fighting enemies he never asked for in a jungle in the middle of a hurricane. He’s either going to strangle Ankari… or fall in love. Either scenario could get him killed.

My Review:

Some of the reviews compare Mercenary Instinct to Firefly, and it’s a pretty fair starting point. Possibly an alternate universe Firefly. It’s not that Mal Reynolds couldn’t end up as cynical and universe-weary as Victor Mandrake (he pretty much did) but that I can’t imagine Mal creating or leading a successful mercenary company with 200+ people on its payroll. He wasn’t that organized, nor did he want to be in charge of quite that much. (Zoe, on the other hand, possibly yes)

But Mal would certainly have pulled the same stunt that Viktor does – taking a bounty for someone who seems criminal, only to change his mind when he discovers that the supposed criminals are every bit as much victims of intergalactic politics and chicanery as he is.

Upon which change of heart, trouble comes hunting him and his. So yes, Firefly.

Back to the actual book in hand (or on ereader), Mercenary Instinct. This is a combination unlikely love story and poke in the eye at intergalactic mercantile empires wrapped up in a fun package.

Viktor Mandrake is the Captain/Commander/Leader of Mandrake’s Company, a successful mercenary company with a fairly decent sized payroll and quite a bit of good space-faring equipment. He’s also a deserter from the GalCom Special Forces. GalCom isn’t a government or a planet, it’s a corporation. A universe spanning corporation that operates as a government. It’s also the entity that wiped out the entire population of Mandrake’s home planet because they didn’t want to join the company.

Only one other planet ever suffered the same fate, and for the same reason. GalCom also wiped Ankari Markovich’s home planet of Spero off the face of the universe. No other planet failed to heed those heart-breaking examples. But it does give Viktor something in common with Marcovich, the woman he is supposed to turn over to one of the more secretive Lords of Commerce on brutal but rather flimsy charges.

Ankari Markovich is the owner of a small biotech firm that plans to use ancient alien gut-bugs (try to say that three times fast) to make people healthier through gut-bug treatments. (As they are formally called, microbiota are real and research on changing or fixing them through injections from people with healthy microbiota is currently ongoing in our 21st century, which makes this plot not as far-fetched as it first appears)

Lord Felgard creates a “Most Wanted” poster for a very nasty crime using very shaky, almost “photoshopped” evidence so that he can put a very hefty bounty on Ankari and her two partners, Jamie and Lauren. All women in their early to mid-20s who have never even heard of Lord Felgard.

Their capture, in fact, the wanted posters themselves, come as a total surprise to Ankari and company. So much of a surprise that Viktor Mandrake starts to question the purpose of this bounty he has hunted. When Felgard double-crosses him, Viktor is certain there is more to this story than appears, in spite of, or perhaps because of, Ankari’s repeated escape attempts.

She may be trouble, but she isn’t a cold blooded killer. So what is she and why does Felgard want her in such a huge, expensive hurry?

And why can’t Viktor manage to resist letting her trouble all the way into his formerly regimented life?

Escape Rating B+: In spite of, or perhaps because of, its similarity to Firefly, Mercenary Instinct is a whole lot of fun. It has that same blend of space opera combined with rooting for the underdog that made Firefly so much fun.

In the science fiction side of this book’s roots, we have two themes that make for an interesting “man and woman against the evil corporation” plot work. The idea of an intergalactic corporation becoming the effective government is unfortunately all too easy to believe. After all, corporations now have rights to free speech in the U.S. Also, considering the current mess between Sony and North Korea, we have a corporation that either hacked, was hacked, and censored or was censored or refused to bow to censorship in the face of an actual government. The future where corporations are as big and powerful as countries may already be here.

And we’ve already talked about the gut-bugs. As funny as they sound, there’s real science hiding in those microbiota.

Markovich and her friends make an interesting bunch of would-be entrepreneurs. Lauren is the scientist who focuses on her work to the exclusion of everything else, including self-preservation. Jamie is a self-taught pilot and engineer desperate to escape her home planet, and Ankari is the brains and guts of the outfit. She’s the one who keeps going when it would be logical to stop trying. She rescues herself, over and over.

The double-cross by Felgard creates a dramatic tension as every mercenary company in the area swoops in to attempt to re-kidnap Ankari and her friends from Mandrake. The more odds that are stacked against them, the closer that Ankari and Viktor become.

I’ll confess to not being 100% sold on their romance. While it made sense that they banded together in the face of so much opposition and danger, it smacked a bit too much of insta-love to sell me. I could see insta-lust in this situation but not true love. YMMV.

Felgard was a bit of a cookie-cutter villain, if the cookies were made out of man-eating plants. He’s a bit bwahaha at the end, and seemed to exist mostly to create the situation rather than have real motives of his own.

trial and temptation by ruby lionsdrakeBut I still had a ball with this book, and have the entire series so far on my iPad waiting for the next time I need a treat. Trial and Temptation is already tempting me.

Reviewer’s note: Ruby Lionsdrake is possibly one of the cheesiest pen-names I have ever giggled over. But when I discoverd that Ruby is actually Lindsay Buroker, author of the marvelous fantasy/steampunk Emperor’s Edge series, I couldn’t resist seeing how she did in a new genre. I’m very glad I did.


***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Once More with Feeling: The Best Ebook Romances of 2013

LJ 2013 Best BooksIn spite of what the opening paragraph of the article at Library Journal says, this is actually the third year that I’ve been asked to choose the Best Ebook Romances of the Year for Library Journal.

Just check the archives, if you’re terribly curious, here are the links to the 2011 and 2012 lists. This is one of the most fun things I get to do all year that can be more or less labeled as work, even though, as what I call reverse full-disclosure, Library Journal does not pay for the writing of this particular article or for the book reviewing I do for them.

Creating this list is always personal for me. These are books or series that I read or am in the middle of. They are the books that I gave either A ratings or 4.5 or 5 star ratings to, depending on where I did the review. Or in a few cases, B+ reviews of books I absolutely couldn’t get out of my head.

The first year, I was told to list 5 books. Last year, 5-ish. This year, my editor said 10 from the start. I think she figured out that I cheat and list series. I did again this year and went over the limit.

skies of gold by zoe archerArcher, Zoë. Skies of Gold. Avon Impulse. (Ether Chronicles, Bk. 5). ebk. ISBN 9780062241443. STEAMPUNK ROMANCE (4.5 star review)

The first four books in the Ether Chronicles (Skies of Fire, Night of Fire, Skies of Steel, Night of Steel) were on my 2012 list for good reason; this series is simply awesome steampunk worldbuilding. Also we have all the story possibilities inherent in a world war, but with airships and “ether” power. While Skies of Gold is a more than worthy successor to the first four books in the series, it is unfortunately the last book in the series. If you love steampunk romance, you’ll be enthralled. And then sad that it’s over.

forged in blood 1 by Lindsay BurokerBuroker, Lindsay. Forged in Blood I. ebk. ISBN 9781301493357. Forged in Blood II. ebk. ISBN 9781301349876. ea. vol: Lindsay Buroker. (Emperor’s Edge). FANTASY ROMANCE
I’ve adored the first five volumes of The Emperor’s Edge series (The Emperor’s Edge, Dark Currents, Deadly Games, Conspiracy, Blood and Betrayal) so much that I haven’t wanted to see it end. So I’ll confess that I put the entire series on the list even though only the last two books were published in 2013, and I’ve been saving reading the ending for a treat for myself. LJ was slightly puristic about things and only put the 2013 titles as the main entry on the list. The Emperor’s Edge is Epic Fantasy with a touch of Steampunk. The primary story isn’t a romance, but, and it’s a truly lovely but, there is a romantic subplot. Or maybe that’s sub-subplot. Our heroine convinces the best assassin not to kill her, and keeps on convincing him to help her, even though everyone tells her he’s just a heartless killing machine. Of course he’s not. Well, not completely.

[Bittersweet Blood by Nina Croft]Croft, Nina. Bittersweet Blood. Entangled. (Order, Bk. 1). ebk. ISBN 9781622669592. PARANORMAL ROMANCE (A- Review)
What a difference just a few days makes! At the time I wrote the article, I was just about to read the second book in Croft’s Order series, Bittersweet Magic (B+ Review). I didn’t want to jinx things by listing it, but I shouldn’t have worried. What’s so much fun about this paranormal romance series is that the standard definitions don’t really apply; the vampires maintain the Order of the Shadow Accords on Earth to prevent the Fae and the Demons from repeating their use of Earth as the battleground in the long-running Fae/Demon war. The contemporary fallout seems to be over the descendants of the Fae Juliet and the Demon Romeo of that war. But Demons are immortal, so Romeo isn’t dead. But his half blood daughter is ground zero for armageddon, and only the vampires can protect her. Make that one vampire with a personal “stake” in the result. The world-building in this just keeps getting better, and the love stories more complex.

black dog blues by rhys fordFord, Rhys. Black Dog Blues. Coffee Squirrel. (Kai Gracen, Bk. 1). ebk. ISBN 9781301668625. M/M PARANORMAL ROMANCE (4.5 Star Review)
This is a dark and gritty post-apocalyptic urban fantasy much more than it is a paranormal romance. There are several characters in this story who care a great deal for the elfin Kai Gracen, but Kai doesn’t even like himself enough to be ready for more than friendship with anyone else. He’ll get there, but he isn’t there yet. The story drops us into Kai’s world as it is; we know what he knows. We don’t know why or how the sidhe suddenly merged with what used to be our normal, just that Kai has to endure whatever crap gets thrown his way. It’s the person who emerges from the endurance that makes the story. That and dodging the dragons mating over the Mojave Desert.

Take What You Want by Jeanette GreyGrey, Jeanette. Take What You Want. Samhain. ebk. ISBN 9781619213746.
Ignore the New Adult label. Take What You Want is an absolutely marvelous contemporary romance that just so happens to be about two people in college. Ellen can’t go away for Spring Break, so she takes a vacation from herself. Just for a few days, she tries to be someone a bit different; instead of being shy and retreating into her books, Ellen buys sexy clothes on sale, goes to a townie bar and picks up the hottest guy in the place. She pretends to be “New Ellen” for just one night. Josh thinks no-strings-attached sex with a girl that he’s had a crush on since freshman year is a fantastic idea, but he knows exactly who she is. Ellen really doesn’t recognize him without his glasses. The next night is where pretense starts butting up against reality, because he wants to turn their one-night-stand into something more and New Ellen and regular Ellen have a difficult time deciding the difference between what they should want and what they do want.

armies of heaven by jane kindredKindred, Jane. The Armies of Heaven. Entangled. (House of Arkhangel’sk). ebk. ISBN 9781620611067. FANTASY ROMANCE (4.5 star review)
The fall of the House of Arkangel’sk is a deliciously complicated blend of the historic fall of the Russian Imperial House of Romanov with Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen with more than few tablespoons of the deviance, decadence and twisted political machinations of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart. There is love to be found, but the path to reach it leads through dark places, and our preconceived notions of good and evil, right and wrong, do not apply in Kindred’s Courts of Heaven. The best man in the entire series is a demon, although he would never think of himself as good. The biggest fool is a certainly an angel, and he would definitely label himself as such. The series begins with The Fallen Queen (4.5 star review) and continues with The Midnight Court (A Review) before the conclusion in The Armies of Heaven. Prepare to be enthralled.

how to misbehave by ruthie knoxKnox, Ruthie. How To Misbehave. ebk. ISBN 9780345545305. (4 star review)
Knox, Ruthie. Along Came Trouble. ebk. ISBN 9780345541611. (5 star review)
Knox, Ruthie. Flirting with Disaster. ebk. ISBN 9780345541703. (A- Review)
Knox, Ruthie. Making It Last. ebk. ISBN 9780345549297.
ea. vol: Loveswept: Random. (Camelot). 4-vol. set. ebk. ISBN 9780804180436. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
This small town romance series set in central Ohio is all about the Clark siblings, Amber, Katie and Caleb. Knox specializes in contemporary romances where real people solve very real problems while going through major life experiences. The tension in her stories comes from the kind of situations that cause stress in ordinary life; trying to reinvent yourself, trying to maintain a marriage, dealing with grief, not dealing with grief, returning home, being part of the sandwich generation, financial stress. The difference is that Knox makes her characters people that we all identify with and lets them have a fantastically steamy romance while they resolve their problems. Her stories pull at your heartstrings and make you smile. Every single time.

case of the displaced detective omnibus edition by stephanie osbornOsborn, Stephanie. The Case of the Displaced Detective Omnibus. Twilight Times. SF ROMANCE
I adore Sherlock Holmes re-imaginings, with the exception of the whatever-it-is that Guy Ritchie birthed with Robert Downey Jr. (who should stick to Iron Man). But I seriously digress. I read, and reviewed, Stephanie Osborn’s Case of the Displaced Detective somewhat in its originally published parts: The Arrival (A- Review), At Speed (B+ Review) and The Case of the Cosmological Killer (B Review). In the case of Stephanie Osborn’s continuing opus, I very much admire her concept of a Holmes who is not quite our Holmes and has an excuse for being so. She has used theories of quantum physics to create not just a possible universe where Holmes would have been a flesh-and-blood person, but to create causality that would bring that person into our 21st century. He is not quite the “thinking machine” of Conan Doyle’s fiction because he is not supposed to be, and that opens up a world of possibilities. Real human beings, after all, feel real emotions as they solve mysteries. Sometimes they even fall in love.

The Story Guy by Mary Ann RiversRivers, Mary Ann. The Story Guy. Loveswept: Random. ebk. ISBN 9780345548740. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE (A- Review)
There was only one thing wrong with this story. It was too short, and at the time it was written, it was the only thing available by Mary Ann Rivers. The story is absolutely awesome, I wanted more by this author, and there just wasn’t anything else, yet.
What’s a “story guy”? A story guy is someone who may or may not be long-term relationship material, but who will, sometime in the future after the heartache is over, make a terrific story. Librarian Carrie West answers a personal ad from a very hot guy for one hour of kissing in the park every week. The answers to the questions about why this unattached and gorgeous man is willing to settle for so little for himself, and to make sure that no one is able to get attached to him, make for one marvelous and nearly heartbreaking love story. (And if you fall in love with The Story Guy you’ll probably also love Ruthie Knox’ Big Boy.)

Anything for You book coverScott, Jessica. Anything for You. Loveswept: Random. (Coming Home, Bk. 2.5). ebk. ISBN 9781301165766. (A+ Review)
Scott, Jessica. I’ll Be Home for Christmas. Forever Yours: Grand Central. (Coming Home, Bk. 2.6). ebk. ISBN 9781455554249. (A Review) MILITARY ROMANCE
Jessica Scott’s Coming Home series, which began in 2011’s Because of You (A Review) and continued in 2012 with Until There Was You (A- Review), is a military romance series that gets to the heart of what it means to love someone who serves in the military, because author Scott is herself a career army officer and is married to a career NCO. So instead of writing about the glory of the battlefield, she writes about the toll that deployments take on a family with inside knowledge of what it’s like to wonder if someone is coming home, and how hard it is to wait and worry. She’s able to convey the emotional cost to a soldier with a career-ending injury, not just because his body is messed-up, but because he’s lost his purpose and he’s worried about the people he’s left behind. If you want to read a military romance with real heart, read Jessica Scott.

That’s it for this list. The specific requirements for the Library Journal list were that they all had to be ebooks, either ebook-only or ebook-first, or ebook-mostly. In some cases, there is a print available on demand, but the ebook looks like the primary format, or it did at the time. Also, for this list, there had to be a romance in the story. Yes, a couple of times you have to be looking for the romance, it’s not the primary plot. But there had to at least be a romantic element.

I used to be able to put this list in preference order, but it’s gotten too big. And there’s kind of an apples/bananas problem. How do you compare a steampunk romance to a paranormal romance when they are both at the top of their respective trees?

I will do a “best of the year” list next week (which includes a few contributions from my friend Cass!) These type of lists are loads of fun. It’s great to look back and see what I’ve read and which books stick in the mind by the end of the year.

Review: Conspiracy by Lindsay Buroker

Conspiracy by Lindsay BurokerFormat read: ebook purchased from the author
Formats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: Fantasy, Steampunk
Series: The Emperor’s Edge, #4
Length: 359 pages
Publisher: Self-published
Date Released: April 25, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

When you’re an outlaw hoping for a pardon, and the emperor personally sends a note requesting that your team kidnap him, you make plans to comply…

Even if it’ll involve infiltrating a train full of soldiers, bodyguards, and spies loyal to a nefarious business coalition that has numerous reasons to hate you.

Even if it means leaving the city right after you’ve uncovered a secret weapons shipment that might be meant to start a war.

Even if it’s a trap…

My Review:

The Emperor’s Edge books are my current “book treats”. I read one when I get ahead in my reviews because Buroker’s combination of fantasy and steampunk is always delicious. There’s something particularly appealing about the team-building aspects of the story, as this rag-tag group shifts and constantly snarls at one another but still somehow manages to make a cohesive (okay, semi-cohesive) unit. That her hero is an unrepentant assassin reminds me of the best anti-heroes of fantasy, the series reads like excellent sword-and-sorcery, only with even more snark.

Conspiracy is Akstyr’s story, at least in the parts where it isn’t Amaranthe and Sicarius’ story. It’s always Amaranthe and Sicarius’ story. Amaranthe is the person who holds the whole mess together, more or less.

In this case, and Akstyr’s case, it’s very nearly less. The kid, and he’s just 18, is their magic practitioner. Problem of the first part, the empire officially does not believe magic exists. Problem of the second part, anyone found practicing magic gets killed. Leading to problem of the third part, Akstyr is self-taught, and really wants to leave the empire for someplace where he can learn how to use his powers.

The poor fool thinks he can fake betraying Sicarius in order to pick up enough of the reward on that head. Sicarius is the best assassin in the world. No one will touch that reward. Instead they betray Akstyr to Sicarius. His own long-lost mother turns up and betrays Akstyr for the reward on his head. The kid is having that kind of life.

Meanwhile, there’s a much bigger conspiracy going on. The emperor, in a very roundabout sort of way, requested that Amaranthe and her gang kidnap him from the mercantile warlords who are holding him prisoner in his own palace. It’s a tough job, but Amaranthe and company can just about manage it, using an airship to steal the emperor away from a moving train.

But while they’re conspiring to kidnap their willing victim, there seem to be at least three sets of dastardly villains on their way to murder or capture them, or the emperor, or both.

How many traps are involved? Who wants whom, and what is the big, black, scary airship looking for?

Escape Rating A: Conspiracy gets off to a fast start, and never lets up. A lot of the action takes place as the group tries to take over a moving train, and the story has the speed of a runaway locomotive. Everything happens at breakneck speed and under the gun (several guns). The pressure is constantly building.

Akstyr figures out who he wants to be in this story. He’s been drifting along with the group, while trying to pretend he’s not really part of it. In Conspiracy, he half-attempts one purposeful betrayal, and accidentally succeeds at another. But he learns what his place is, and shows real growth as a character.

Watching the dance between Sicarius and Amaranthe is always fascinating. It’s one step forward and half a step to the side in a lot of ways. They both want a future, but he doesn’t know how to be anything but an assassin and she knows he’s a loaded weapon. But they can’t help caring for each other, even though he doesn’t quite understand what that means for real people.

Blood and Betrayal by Lindsay BurokerConspiracy ended in an “out of the frying pan into the fire” type cliffhanger. The situation was not resolved and there is no let up in the tension whatsoever. I can’t wait to see where Blood and Betrayal takes our heroes next.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Deadly Games by Lindsay Buroker

Deadly Games by Lindsay BurokerFormat read: ebook purchased from the author
Formats available: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: Fantasy, Steampunk
Series: The Emperor’s Edge, #3
Length: 328 pages
Publisher: Self-published
Date Released: November 10, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

When you’ve been accused of kidnapping an emperor, and every enforcer in the city wants your head, it’s hard to prove yourself an honorable person and even harder to earn an imperial pardon.

That doesn’t keep Amaranthe Lokdon and her team of outlaws from trying. When athletes start disappearing from the Imperial Games, they may finally have an opportunity to show the emperor that they’re on his side. If she and her comrades can get to the bottom of such a public mystery, they’re sure to get the credit.

But plans go awry when Amaranthe’s own men start plotting against each other, the new ally she’d hoped to acquire tries to turn her in, and her best fighter–and closest friend–disappears.

Maybe getting involved wasn’t such a good idea after all…

My Review:

The Emperor's Edge by Lindsay BurokerDeadly Games gets off to a slightly slower start than the first two books in the Emperor’s Edge series (see my reviews of The Emperor’s Edge and Dark Currents) but it’s the same type of slowly as those last few feet of clanking you hear on a roller coaster just before it gets dragged over the top of the first, highest peak on its track and goes careening down the other side in near-freefall.

Once this story gets going, the stomach-clenching, twisting and turning action never stops. The reader can also feel the places where the story kind of “bends” onto a slightly different path, and the whole fantastic construction of the series shifts from just being a glorious adventure to something more serious and, well, deadly.

In the background, you see the long game being played. Amaranthe and her band may be pawns on someone else’s chessboard. We won’t know until the future books play themselves out.

But in this story, there is an event like the Olympics, and people are being kidnapped. Athletes who otherwise have nothing in common besides the games are turning up missing. Amaranthe gets involved because it’s the right thing to do, not because there’s a job in it.

Speaking of games, someone is impersonating Sicarius, and drawing what you would think would be life-limiting attention from the Enforcers.

Oh, and Maldynado keeps trying to set Amaranthe up on a blind date with one of his warrior-caste friends. Not only is Amaranthe embarrassed by this matchmaking assistance, but her “date” keeps trying to get her arrested. There are a couple of bright spots that come out of this particular charade.

The question, as usual, is whether Amaranthe will live long enough to enjoy them.

Escape Rating A-: This installment in the series takes a bit to really get going, possibly because it starts while the gang is on vacation, so there’s a flavor of “getting the band back together” after downtime.

Also, it felt like more of the action than normal took place with the group split into different factions, and the narrative had to switch back and forth. I think this was intended as Basilard’s story, or it felt that way. His issues with his past are the ones that get resolved in this book, even though the long arc is Amaranthe and Sicarius’ story.

The focus this time is on Amaranthe and Sicarius strangely developing relationship; on Basilard’s acceptance, or lack thereof, of the things he had to do to survive; and on Maldynado’s continuing to be Maldynado. Mal may also be growing up a bit, although that’s a really long journey. It’s probably longer than Amaranthe and Sicarius getting to the point of having a relationship, and that’s saying something!

Books and Akstyr take a backseat in this book, and that’s okay. This story has a lot to juggle without keeping all of them in front all the time.

Conspiracy by Lindsay BurokerThere was no easy solution this time. They solved the “case”, but found as many questions as they did answers. The ending left me chomping at the bit to start the next book, Conspiracy.

I have a nasty feeling that they will have more than one conspiracy to deal with. Their luck just seems to run that way. Bad. Awful for them, but compelling to read.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Dark Currents by Lindsay Buroker

Format read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Dark Currents by Lindsay BurokerFormats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Emperor’s Edge, #2
Length: 318 pages
Publisher: Self-published
Date Released: March 16, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

It’s been three months since former enforcer Amaranthe Lokdon and the notorious assassin Sicarius thwarted kidnappers and saved the emperor’s life. The problem? Nobody knows they were responsible for this good deed. Worse, they’re being blamed for the entire scheme. With enforcers and bounty hunters stalking them, and the emperor nursing a personal hatred for Sicarius, it’s going to be hard to earn exoneration. When Amaranthe’s team discovers mutilated bodies in the city aqueducts and a mysterious illness incapacitates thousands of citizens, she and Sicarius see an opportunity to solve the mystery and prove their loyalty. But they’ll have to defeat vengeful shamans, man-eating predators, and deadly mechanical constructs, all while dodging imperial soldiers who would rather kill them than accept their help. Nobody said exoneration would be easy.

My Review:

Finding dead bodies blocking the sewer is generally considered bad news, unless it’s the start to a fantastically marvelous story like Lindsay Buroker’s Dark Currents, the second book in her fantasy-steampunk Emperor’s Edge series.

I was hooked from the moment that Books fell into that first squishy, wet corpse.

Books is a person, by the way, Marl Mugdildor, the researcher in Amaranthe Lokdon’s crazily mismatched team. This is his story. Well, he’s more the near-central player.

The Emperor’s Edge series is Amaranthe and Sicarius’ story. Amaranthe is a former Imperial Enforcer, and Sicarius is still the best assassin in the known world. Quite possibly ever. Their goal is to do enough really terrific great deeds (and get recognized for them) that they can redeem everyone’s name so that the Emperor will forgive them all.

[The Emperor's Edge]Amaranthe wants to be back on the good side of the law again. She never intended to be a criminal. It was something that got forced upon her because she is more than a bit too smart for her own good. (Read the awesome beginning of the series, The Emperor’s Edge for the complete story). Sicarius needs to get back on the Emperor Sespian’s good side because, very, very much unknown to the Emperor, Sicarius is his real father.

Amaranthe is the only person alive who happens to know that rather dangerous fact. Sicarius has been trained, practically from birth, it seems, never to give away anything. But if there is one thing that Amaranthe is good at, it’s getting people to tell her things that they had no intention of revealing. It’s a talent that seems to work especially well on the otherwise extremely taciturn assassin.

When she’s not getting them both nearly killed. Or when his very murky past isn’t coming back to bite them both in the ass.

Speaking of which, a lot of those “dark currents” referred to in the title of this book have to do with Sicarius’ past. The rest of the currents are water. It turns out that no one really knows where the water that feeds the capitol of the empire is sourced from–except whoever is poisoning it.

Amaranthe and company head into the countryside to find out, hoping that saving the entire city will be a splashy enough job to catch the emperor’s attention in a favorable way. It’s too bad that the emperor has already sent soldiers and enforcers to get to the bottom of the problem, and that they don’t trust Amaranthe and her crew.

It’s even more serious that the real problem is one that only Amaranthe’s crew can handle. There’s a mad shaman on the loose, and no one in the empire even believes in magic.

Escape Rating A: I absolutely could not put this down. This was one of those “miss-my-bus-stop” books.

The thing that is making this series so good for me so far is the relationship between the team members. The snark level is very high, but it’s part of the way the camaraderie builds. This is the kind of family that grows by spilling blood together. And by occasionally having its blood spilled together.

Amaranthe’s relationship with Sicarius is heading slowly toward romance. It’s very slow, and that’s good. He started out so closed off, that there was no way he was anything other than unattainable at the beginning. Gorgeous, but unattainable. It would be like throwing herself at a rock. She’d break. But she’s getting to him, and he’s cracking a bit around the edges.

Having this story use Books as the focus character instead of Amaranthe gave the team more depth. Being more in his headspace and hearing why he was with the team and what he got out of it added more to the story.

The Assassin's Curse by Lindsay BurokerI have a few more things I need to read before I can treat myself to the next book, Deadly Games. There’s a novella in between, The Assassin’s Curse, and I know I’m going to read it too. This series is just too much fun to resist for long!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Emperor’s Edge by Lindsay Buroker

[The Emperor's Edge]Format read: ebook available free from Amazon
Formats available: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Emperor’s Edge, #1
Length: 322 pages
Publisher: Self-published
Date Released: March 16, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

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.

My Review:

I dove into The Emperor’s Edge because I was hungry for a good fantasy, and it was the first title that jumped out from my Kindle app screen.

I was so glad it did.

It’s not just that it’s the opening of a mostly fantasy series (although there’s more than a touch of steampunk), it’s that Amaranthe Lokdon and her crew are a bunch that make you itch to get to know them better.

Amaranthe starts out as an imperial enforcer who is way too good for the job. But she’ll never get promoted. In this world, women have only recently been permitted to join the enforcers, so Amaranthe is a rarity.

It’s not that she’s expected to be a housewife; that’s not the way it works. In this world, women are the merchant class. Amaranthe was supposed to be a shopkeeper. Or more. She even went to an academy for it.

But that wasn’t ever the life she wanted for herself. Amaranthe is a damned good investigator. She likes being an enforcer. She’s proud of upholding the law.

Until she draws the attention of the emperor, and his imperial minder. Then she finds out what it’s like to be on the wrong side of everything. And that the law, and justice don’t necessarily serve the same ends.

Amaranthe realizes that she’s going to have to bend one hell of a lot of laws in order to save what’s really important. Like the emperor’s life.

Isn’t it fascinating that her very first ally in her quest is the best assassin in the world? After she convinces him (a) not to kill her, and (b) that she has a plan to save the emperor from the people trying to kill him.

Escape Rating A-: I absolutely barrelled through The Emperor’s Edge, sort of like one of the mechanical monsters that Amaranthe fights during the book. This was awesomely fun.

The gang that Amaranthe puts together is a classic Five-Man Band. The parts are Leader, Lancer or second-in-command, Smart-Guy, Big-Guy and Heart. (On TV, the best Five-Man Band is NCIS.)

Amaranthe is the leader. She recruits a disparate group of characters and keeps them together through sheer force of personality. She’s the one who always has a plan, and just keeps pulling them through. Admittedly, sometimes she pulls those plans out of her ass, but she knows that. She’s flying entirely by the seat of her pants.

But the most fascinating creation in this story is Sicarius. He’s the Lancer in the band. In this particular case, he’s the most feared assassin in the world, and with good reason. He signs up with Amaranthe to protect the emperor, not because he wants to ally with our heroine.

Sicarius is a killing machine. It’s all he’s been trained for. And yet, Amaranthe has found a way to probe his secrets. Or at least one. Sicarius is so compelling because he gives away so little, and hides so much. And yet, we know there is a reason he is willing to stay with this thin shred of an idea to protect an emperor who has given orders he be killed on sight. Not that anyone has a prayer of succeeding in killing Sicarius. Whole platoons have died in trying, and everyone knows it.

The Emperor’s Edge is a fantasy, and an adventure, and the beginning of a long journey with a fascinating group of players. I have the rest of the series so far, and I plan to carve out some time to dive in. I must find out what happens next!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.


Peacemaker is the third book in Lindsay Buroker’s Flash Gold Chronicles. When I finished the last page, I was already pining for book four. I hope I don’t have too long to wait for the next episode in these steampunk adventures of a self-taught tinkerer and her bounty hunter business partner.

Kali and Cedar are tremendous fun. Especially because the scrapes Kali gets into (and gets herself out of) read like a Girl’s Own Adventure version of the Perils of Pauline. Or maybe more like “Dudley Do-right and Snidely Whiplash”? But in Ms. Buroker’s tales, Kali McAlister never waits for any man to rescue her, and her partner Cedar is much, much smarter than Dudley ever hoped to be.

Cedar needs to be smarter if he’s ever going to have half a chance with Kali. But there are Mounties hanging around. Peacemaker takes place in Dawson City, Yukon during the height of the Klondike Gold Rush.

During the Gold Rush era, “Peacemaker” was a nickname for a Colt Single Action Revolver.    Between 1949 and 1959, “Peacemaker” was also the nickname for the Convair B-36 strategic bomber. In this steampunk wild west where airship pirates steal gold from men who shoot back with six-shooters, both nicknames turn out to be strangely apropos.

Dawson was a dangerous place. All Gold Rush towns were. But Dawson is particularly dangerous for Kali and Cedar.

There’s a serial killer on the loose. He’s targeting Native girls, and he doesn’t just kill them. He tortures and rapes them first. Then he butchers them. Jack the Ripper might have been the killer’s teacher, or his student.

The worst part is he’s trying to lay the blame on either the Natives, or animals, or superstitious nonsense. In any case, he escapes clean every time. Finding out just how he does it is a big part of the story.

The absolutely worst part is that the crimes appear to be the work of the same serial killer who struck in San Francisco just before Cedar left–the crimes that Cedar was accused of. There’s a Pinkerton agent on Cedar’s trail, and he’s come to Dawson to get his man.

Cedar isn’t the murderer. But the murderer is tracking Cedar, knowing he can lay the blame at Cedar’s door. And Kali is half-Native. Adding her to the body count will serve two purposes; it will hurt Cedar, and it will make him look even more guilty. After all, that’s how it worked in San Francisco. The last victim there was someone Cedar cared about, too.

About that bomber: Kali wants an airship. Attempting to get her hands on one lands her, and everyone around her, in all sorts of trouble. Read the book and find out how she gets herself out.

Escape Rating A: I was happy that Peacemaker was a bit longer than Flash Gold and Hunted, because I didn’t want it to be over. I really like Kali as a character, and I didn’t want to let her go.

We see more of her background in Peacemaker, and she’s come a long way. Kali is a child of two worlds, and feels like she doesn’t belong in either one. Seeing that she has made a way for herself that takes the best of both makes her a truly interesting character.

I do hope that someday Kali and Cedar get a happy ending. These are not romances, so that’s not part of the story. But these are two people who have had some rough times, and as a reader, you hope they get rewarded. They’re just good together.



Hunted is the second book in Lindsay Buroker’s Flash Gold Chronicles. If you like western-themed steampunk, you’ll love the Flash Gold Chronicles. Start with the first story, Flash Gold (reviewed here) and just keep right on reading. You’ll be glad you did.

Hunted picks right up where Flash Gold left off. So there will be some spoilers for Flash Gold in this review. (It’s difficult to review book 2 of a series without spoiling book 1 a tiny bit!)

Kali and Cedar are business partners. But not partners of any other kind. However, when Kali’s low-down, no-good con man of an ex-fiancé strolls into her tinkering shop, Kali pretends that Cedar is her beau. She’s just so incensed that Sebastian believes that no man could possibly be interested in her unless he was after her dwindling supply of her father’s flash gold.

There turn out to be three problems with her deception of Sebastian as to the nature of her partnership with Cedar.

Problem number one: Sebastian has a job for her, a real one. He’s planning to prospect for gold out and he wants her to come out and handle the engineering. She needs the money for parts for her airship.

Problem number two: her business partner Cedar not only wants her to take that job, he wants to come along with her. He needs the excuse to go out to the goldfields. Cedar is a bounty hunter, and the bounty he is hunting is rumored to be on the next claim over from Sebastian’s.

Problem number three: while Cedar was standing behind her with his arms wrapped around her, pretending to be not just protective, but downright enamored of her, Kali discovered that she liked the feeling far too much. Pretending to be engaged might upset the balance of their relationship in ways she hadn’t expected.

And with Kali’s luck, once she and Cedar arrived at Sebastian’s gold claim, the entire situation immediately went from bad to worse. The only gold Sebastian was after turned out to be the bounty on Kali’s head!

Escape Rating A-: The Flash Gold Chronicles are simply way too much fun. Kali’s endless inventiveness, her positive lust for all things mechanical, is an absolute delight. Every time some new engineering marvel takes pot shots at her, she’s every bit as interested in seeing how it ticks as she is in shooting it down. Kali is a character I’d love to meet.

I’ve already started Peacemaker, the third book in the Flash Gold Chronicles. I’m delighted to be spending more time with Kali and Cedar.


Flash Gold

Flash Gold by Lindsay Buroker is the first story in her Flash Gold Chronicles. What are those, I hear you asking? They are an absolutely marvelous series of western-style steampunk-flavored romps set in a gold rush-era Yukon featuring a terrifically inventive heroine, Kali McAlister.

In other words, it’s fun!

Kali McAllister plans to enter her “dogless sled” in a mushing race, all so she can win the $1000 prize and leave the Yukon in general and the town of Moose Hollow in particular, forever.

Kali is an inventor. Her dogless sled runs on steampower and mechanical engineering trickery. Most of the folks around Moose Hollow believe she’s a witch. They’re wrong.

Kali’s mother was a witch. Well, a pretty powerful medicine woman of the local Han tribe, anyway. And her father, well, he was the closest thing to a wizard that this world is likely to see for a while.

And he invented “flash gold”. Gold flakes that go “BOOM” like gunpowder or TNT, only more stable, and way more valuable.  The really neat thing about flash gold is that it obeys instructions like the punch cards on a jacquard loom, but way easier. Flash gold accepts verbal instructions.

The world’s last known supply of was her father’s legacy to Kali. But Kali’s trying to keep that fact very, very quiet. She has enough problems with the idiots in town who want to sabotage her sled.

So when a big, sword-toting stranger comes to town and wants to hire on as her guard for the race, Kali is pretty skeptical. But she needs a guard. It’s just that this man who calls himself “Cedar” is too expensively equipped for someone willing to work for just the promise of wages.

And that’s when Kali discovers that  every nefarious no-good varmint in the Yukon and Northwest Territories seems to be hunting her for her father’s flash gold. And that Cedar is hunting all of them!

Escape Rating A-: I read this twice. I requested a review copy from the author, and read and really enjoyed it. But I didn’t get the review written. The third book in the Flash Gold Chronicles just came out (Hunted is #2, and Peacemaker is #3) and I decided it was time to write the review. I roared through Flash Gold again, and it was just as much fun the second time through.

A reader can’t ask for better than that!