Saturday, July 16, 2011

Review: Dark Currents

Dark Currents (The Emperor's Edge Book 2)Dark Currents by Lindsay Buroker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: fantasy adventure with elements of steampunk

Publisher: indie/self-published

Where I got it: Smashwords

Warnings: violence

The review (spoilers past this point):
In the sequel to Lindsay Buroker's excellent, The Emperor's Edge, we're presented once more with the point of view of former Imperial enforcer, Amaranthe Lokdon, and as an unexpected treat, we now have the secondary point of view of Marl "Books" Mugdildor.

I must admit, I was expecting the adorkable Sespian to feature again, but the story was so engaging that I didn't miss him overly much. At least we could see that some of his lofty laws were being implemented - and thwarted by conniving bad guys.

Although, the bad guys don't seem completely bad when we see them through Amaranthe's eyes. She has the remarkable trait of seeing good in almost anyone. It's what makes her so charming and a large reason why such antagonistic team members are able to work together without abandoning such a crazy cause.

Once again, each character wormed their way into my imagination and made me laugh and fret over their adventures. The true beauty of this series is how endearing the characters are. Each character has grown since the first novel, but we're not thumped over the head with their changes. The growth is subtle and can be seen in the little gestures just as much as the grand ones.

I'm so eager to follow the characters that I often forget about the plot, which - you'll be pleased to know - is every bit as hair-raising as the first book. I can't help but notice how much fun the author must be having writing this series. The dialogue is snappy, the description is engrossing, the conflict is palpable and, at certain moments, the challenge ahead of this crew just seems too huge to surmount (But, darn it, I am rooting for them! They are too lovable and determined for me not to).

Despite Amaranthe's plan to use good deeds to win redemption for them all (at least this was partially successful for one character, and I'm absolutely pleased that one of her plans bore fruit), I couldn't help but see doubt trying to push its way through the cracks of her certainty. She is saddened by the life that was taken from her, and I'm sure after meeting Sergeant Yara, she must realise that even if she gets a pardon, she can't wipe away everything else that has happened since she started handing around a certain assassin.

And then there is the matter of Sicarius himself. Life *would* be easier without him around. He has done some truly monstrous things in his life, and maybe, just maybe, redemption isn't possible for him. I think it's incredibly noble and maybe a little naïve of her to stick by him and try to see his "dream" through, despite the mounting cost against her own hopes for the future. While she clearly does have feelings for him, I wonder if they are as deep as she suspects. How can one really know a man like Sicarius? He is quite wise to keep a safe, professional distance from her.

The authors note mentions that she isn't quite sure if she'll couple Amaranthe and Sicarius. I'd like to state that I'm quite happy for them not to, at least, not yet. He is a bit of a emotional brick wall and she is far too open. Plus, Sicarius himself pointed out some very good reasons. Their interaction right now is hysterical to watch, and I'm not sure I'd like to lose that just yet. Maybe Mal is right, and she does need to meet other fellows. Only time will tell and I'll be watching closely for the next instalment in this addictive series.

The Final Word
A rollicking adventure that is every bit as fun, well-written and thought-out as the first.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Well by Peter Labrow

The WellThe Well by Peter Labrow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror

Publisher: indie/self-published

Where I got it: I won it! Amazon

Warnings: violence, adult themes

The review (spoilers past this point):
The Well could easily be called The Surprise.

I think the first thing I thought when seeing this book was "how on earth do you keep a story going about some people trapped in a well?"

The answer is "with a lot of care".

What makes The Well so compelling is the human element. The narrative follows several lives over the course of a week, beginning with Becca and Matt, who end up trapped in an isolated well after their parents leave town for a few days. Becca, as a point of view character, is quite a likeable protagonist. She's spunky, determined and resourceful. I felt her emotions and actions were quite realistic for such a harrowing ordeal.

Seeing the parents first face the realisation that something is terribly wrong, and then fracturing as the painful reality sits in, is equally heartbreaking for very different reasons. They can escape the well they've put themselves in, if they'd only realise and act on it.

All of the characters - from the antagonistic crossing guard to the police officers on the case and Becca's friends - are well-fleshed out, with care taken to explore their lives and propel them along a path that easily be described as "fate". One character in particular, Sammy, is endearing, brave and completely sure in her convictions. It's a rare gem of a character that reminds the reader that the world doesn't have to be an apathetic place devoid of people making the hard, but heroic choices. Sammy contrasts sharply with her mother, Abby, who, while trying to do the right thing, is in fact making no choice at all and remains as trapped as Becca. For this reason, Sammy becomes an excellent catalyst who forces several characters to move forward, for good or bad. It's a very cool parallel with Becca.

There are numerous moments that have you biting your fingernails and pushing to read "just one more page", but there are also moments that have you pumping your fist in the air. Small triumphs and large ones. It's a wonderful balance to have in a horror novel that is surprisingly free of gore, but high on characterisation and quality story-telling.

Final word
A surprisingly addictive horror novel that is a strong showcase of character limits, failings and successes when faced with an impossible situation

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