The Third Kind of Fantasy
Some books are like a delicious piece of fruit: unadorned, unembellished quality. Others are like a banana split—still fruit-centric, but with some ice cream and toppings, there to set off the banana’s flavor, or sometimes to hide a bland banana. Then there are smoothie books, the ones where three or more genres get so blended you can’t exactly say what was banana, what chocolate, what yogurt and where that dash of citrus came from, but you know it’s good.
Lindsey Buroker’s Eye of Truth, the start of the Agents of the Crown series, is the third kind of book, a true genre-blender. Ostensibly, this is fantasy—set in a Renaissance (and slightly steampunk) world, replete with magic, elves and dwarves, and located high on Amazon’s Epic Fantasy listing. But the story is not fantasy’s classic quest to destroy a magical item, or take over an Empire, or defeat an arch-demon: the story is a mystery involving a detective and an espionage agent. To make things saucier, those two happen to be pining for love at the outset, and find it (or lust at least) by the close of the book.
So this particular genre smoothie is one of fantasy, mystery, and romance—one you might fear would taste too much of citrus for a chocolatey drink, or strongly of protein powder when you wanted kale and peaches. Fear not: Buroker balances her flavors well, and sprinkles enough fantastical set dressings on top that fantasy fans in particular will be pleased. There are religious orders, magical races, kings and mindreaders and embittered peasantry, with epic wars happening in the background.
The trouble is, for true fantasy fans, these elements feel a little too much like set dressings to really scratch the genre itch: the elves and dwarves are very Tolkienian, the Asianish setting and religions feel unimportant to the Western-acting main characters, and the steampunk/magic elements are not radically integrated into the world. And that may be true for mystery and romance fans as well—the clues needed to solve the puzzle aren’t given in enough detail for the savvy reader to solve the mystery a page ahead of the main characters, and the romance they fall in doesn’t feel as conflict-laden or surprising as a full Harlequin can.
Still, this is a smoothie, not a delicately-sliced dish of papaya. And if you read it as such, the balance of flavors is really quite nice—especially as Buroker relays it in clear, fast-moving prose (a true asset among indie authors!), the dialogue is relatively witty (and benefits from romance’s turn toward the sexy), and the side characters are colorful and well-imagined foils to the fairly-serious leads. One thing that did disappoint us was the lack of depth in the inner journeys of the main characters: though they find each other, the adventures they go through don’t seem to substantially change them as people, so the deeper story feels a little lacking.
That said, Eye of Truth made for a fun and engaging read during a plane flight and the first couple days of a vacation in Mexico. If what you’re looking for is not Truly Epic Fantasy or Truly Sultry Romance, but a light-hearted blend of some beloved flavors, try a sip of Eye of Truth and see where it takes you.