Cross-posted from Papyrus Independent Author Reviews.
Bodies found in the aqueducts and a mysterious illness taking hold of the city. Are the incidents related? Is this the mystery to solve that will exonerate a motley bunch of outlaws - and will they survive the attempt?
"Dark Currents" is the second book in the Emperor's Edge series by Lindsay Buroker. I felt that the first novel read very much the opening movie-length episode of a steampunk television series which I had affectionately nicknamed The "A-Team of Steam". Nothing has changed with the second episode. This is pretty much how I'd imagine a second episode of a TV series would play out. The story arc not much progressed, a bit more of a spotlight on one of the main characters and a convenient mystery popping up to help things get off the ground.
Amaranthe is an ex-enforcer finding herself on the other side of the law and leads the team. She continues the ever so important romantic interest with the shady assassin, Sicarius. There is quite a bit of focus on the relationship of these two during the novel, but not without turning the spotlight on the rest of the team. Episode two is our chance as readers to become more acquainted with Books. We find Books feeling like he doesn't fit in with the rest of the group and there's plenty of opportunity for us to examine his feelings, follow his love interest sub-plot and to revel in his inevitable feelings of belonging and greater self-respect by the end of the story. We also get to see him relating to the other team members. In fact, the interplay between the characters takes such a significant portion of the story that as a consequence, the plot itself didn't impress overly much. It really felt like a stand-in story making room for more getting-to-know-you.
Firstly, the mystery itself just wasn't that interesting. One might expect in a book like this that small events lead to an epic conspiracy. Not so here. The conspiracy is almost smaller than the discoveries of mutilated corpses floating around in the aqueducts under the city at the start of the story. The novel felt like a 300+ page side quest not much elevated beyond killing the rats in the inn-keeper's cellar. The action scenes were not very well executed and the author even took what I consider the easy way out by rendering characters unconscious to skip chunks of action. In particular, there is a scene at a dam in the latter half of the book in which unconsciousness seemed to be used as a device to avoid what appeared to be a rather ludicrous finale to a crisis.
While the characterisations were indeed the highlight, I also felt that all the characters including the grim and very serious Sicarius were decidedly camp. Every conversation could be considered witty banter, the barbs flying even in the middle of a crisis. While I think this would probably work quite well in television, I started to find it tiresome by the second half of the book. Perhaps every piece of dialogue doesn't need to have a joke in it. Perhaps Sicarius doesn't need to arch his eyebrow constantly like a villain in a Mel Brooks movie.
I think, for me, what worked in the first novel, didn't work in the second. The prose itself was very good, but it just wasn't enough of a counter-balance for the content. If this were television, I'd probably watch the next episode where the tom-foolery might remain charming and the lack of progress on the main storyline would be expected. However, I'm not so sure when I'll get around to reading the next book in the series. I think the series definitely has a market, but I'm beginning to think that the target audience doesn't really include me.
(reviewed 11 months after purchase)