My reviews are written from a writer’s perspective, with an eye to dissecting good novels to find out what makes them work. Although I try to avoid explicitly discussing book endings, I am not as careful about avoiding all spoilers as some reviewers. If find if I employ too much caution about giving away plot twists, I am not able to provide a concrete analysis of the book’s structure. And frankly, I hate vague reviews.
So… there may be spoilers. If that bothers you, read the book first. Then come back and read my analysis and let me know if you agree…or what I missed!
Title: Balanced on the Blade’s Edge (Dragon Blood Collection, 1-3)
Author: Lindsey Buroker
Genre: Fantasy Romance / Steampunk Fantasy
Read: First Time
Style: Dual Third Person Past
Type: Kindle ebook
* * * * *
Buroker infuses her characters and her storylines with such sly whimsy, it’s impossible not to grin. Although set in a Second World (unique fantasy world), this series has a Steampunk feel to it because of the level of technology and culture. The series also combines strong romance plots with strong adventure plots.
Three centuries ago, the people of Iskandia turned against the magic-users known as the Referatu. In an explosion designed to crush them all of them under a collapsed mountain, the mage Sardelle protected herself with a stasis spell. She didn’t expect to be trapped there for three hundred years. When she awakens, her former fortress has been turned into a prison, most magic has been lost and technology has advanced. But one thing hasn’t changed: the Iskandians still distrust magic-users, and Iskandia is still at war with a bitter foe determined to enslave them.
Sardelle hides her magic and pretends to be one of the prisoners at the mountain. Nonetheless, she quickly comes to the attention of prison commander, Colonel Ridge Zirkander. She has to convince him she can help him mine the mystery power source the Iskandians need for the war, while she secretly finds a way to dig free her enchanted soulblade. The telepathic blade may be trapped, but she provides snarky telepathic commentary on human folly throughout the book.
Zirkander may be in charge, but he’s himself has been assigned to the prison as a punishment. His insubordinate attitude toward superiors (and protective attitude towards those who serve under him) has landed him in trouble (again). He’s suspicious of Sardelle, but also insanely attracted to her. He suspects her of being a spy. He has no idea she’s something much more dangerous…a sorceress.
Heroine / MC: Sardelle Terushan
Hero: Colonel Ridge Zirkander
Sword: A sentient soulblade named Jaxi, who provides wry commentary on the humans—whether they want it or not!
Villain: Cofah (enemy) Sorcerer in attacking airship
Villain: General Nax
There’s a growing trend to create “Second World” fantasy that has a higher level of technology than the traditional medieval settings. Lindsay Buroker’s series is a fine example. In a world where dragons have been extinct for about a millennium, there are magically powered airplanes and airships. The social organization is also more advanced than the usual feudal system; although there are still kingdoms and empires, there are also complicated systems of trade and business. Instead of warriors, the military is composed of professional soldiers.
Since the heroine is from an earlier period than the hero, we are able to see how the society has advanced (and, in some areas, regressed) over time, so there’s also a sense of how the history of this world is dynamic, not static. The geographic area of the novel is confined to a single mountain, yet we have a sense of distant, threatening empires, and even more distant lands filled with jungles, islands, shamans and more exotic forms of magic.
Although I’ve identified Sardelle as the MC (main character), it would be fair to say that Ridge was an MC in his own right as well. The novel spent equal time alternating between both heroes, who were the only PoV characters. Most chapters had two scenes, one from each perspective, although those “scenes” were actually several scenes strung together in a seamless sequence. Despite the solid world building, the plot had the feel of a Romance novel because of the contained cast and restrained movement (everything took place in the prison or on the surrounding mountainside except for the Epilogue). Conflict came primarily from the romantic tension caused by the Heroine and Hero being forced to distrust one another despite their attraction. There were three other villains: an enemy sorcerer, who both attacked the fortress and tried to entice the Heroine to betray her people (all the more tempting because her people would kill her if they discovered she was a sorceress); a stuffy, bigoted General who shows up about two thirds of the way through to cause trouble; and his gorgeous daughter, who flirts with the hero and poses as a potential romantic rival for the Heroine. Given the length of the book, a short “category” length novel, this was plenty of conflict!
I have actually read the first four books in the series already, the three included in the Dragon Blood collection and the next book Patterns in the Dark. As with any Romantic Fantasy that extends into a series with repeating characters, Lindsay has to handle a specific challenge: should the romance be wrapped up at the end of the first book (giving a satisfying ending and HEA, or HEA “for now”), or should the romantic tension be extended over the series? She’s chosen to give the first book a tentative HEA. That makes the first book a satisfying read, but it creates a problem for the rest of the series. Is it not to be more like a traditional high fantasy, in which the tension will come more from the quest or mystery plot than from the romantic tension between the characters?
Lindsay Buroker makes an interesting choice. The second book introduces a new couple, who, we discover, are not unrelated to the first couple. The next book therefore also derives most of its tension from the combination of the romance plot and the escape plot. (A pirate and a captured pilot must work together to escape a jungle prison. But can they trust each other?) The next two books have all four characters embark on a quest together, with some lingering romantic issues to plague them, but most of the interest generated by solving two mysteries, one personal and one magical/military.
The series is not over, so I am curious to see how she will handle the next installment.
“It should have reassured her that she and the colonel were essentially on the same side, having both fought to defend the continent of Iskandia—even if the people called it something different now—but it sank in for the first time that he must also be the descendent of those who had blown up her mountain…annihilated her people.”
“I…believe it might be more dangerous than you think out there,” Sardelle said.
That made it seem even more unlikely that she would want to go.
“It’s just a feeling.” She shrugged. “A hunch. Don’t you ever get hunches when you’re out there flying?”
“Yes. I get hunches when dealing with inscrutable blue-eyed women too.” Ridge laid a hand on her shoulder before she could comment. “Stay here where it’s safe—“ he glanced at the mountain of snow in the fort, “—safe-ish.”
Sardelle’s eyes narrowed with…determination?
“Yes, I’ve heard magical owls are very rude.”
“That’s in the book you were quoting, eh?”
“Actually…no. I was joking. I know very little about magical owls, I’m afraid.”
“Problem?” Sardelle asked.
“Just wondering if I need to rub my dragon before enduring this.”
“You know, my little charm.” Ridge eyed her doused rag. “Or maybe you should rub my dragon.”
“Perhaps later,” she murmured.