After a so-so installment in the second book of this series, this one came roaring back full steam in a truly enjoyable story.
The annual Games where the best athletes compete for a chance to meet the Emperor have begun. However athletes are starting to disappear. Amaranthe and her merry band of mercenaries are hired by the sister of one of the athletes to find out what is happening. But because this is Amaranthe and her crew, it isn't too long before a) they are being blamed for the disappearances and b)one of them gets a price on his head.
This series continues to rock along quite well and I really liked this installment because it does quite a few interesting things:
1) It centers on Basilard. He was the last to join Amaranthe's crew and the only one who is counted as a foreigner. His people have a pacifist belief system that condemns even those who would hurt another in elf-defense. Basilard, of course, was forced to kill in the pits to save his own life. So he is a deeply troubled and has some strong issues to grapple with.
2) The crew has internal issues. Amaranthe is the glue that holds the team together at this point. They have not yet developed a real sense of family or community. In fact two of the members plot to kill a third member and one member continues to question his utility as a team member. At one point I can only think the only reason they are still together outside of their loyalty to Amaranthe is that they just don't have anything else to do. But by the end there is a small, yet important shift in the dynamic. Ties are closer and some bridges are built. But there is still an element of unrest amongst at least one crew member. I can't help but think this will rear it's head again in some future installment.
3) Sicarius -- super Assassin -- is shown to be human (gasp! he makes a near fatal mistake) and also still a total, fearless, death-defying bad-ass. And he unbends enough in the end to let Amaranthe know just what she means to him.
4) Ratchets up the steampunk elements (sorely missed in the first book) in a big way. The climatic scenes underwater are excellent.
Beyond all the wonderful forward momentum are still some familiar elements that are hallmarks of the series.
Amaranthe is still an idealist who just wants to Do The Right Thing. And can talk her way out of trouble a lot.
The humor is a major plus in this book. Maldynado alone is a great comic element. But his (awful) efforts at setting up Amaranthe with a boyfriend is mined for both comedy and plot propelling effect. I also enjoy the fact that Amaranthe realizes that when you start getting mail at your hidden lair, it is time to move your hidden lair.
I am loving this series quite a bit.