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Official Lindsay Buroker Website
INTRODUCTION: "Encrypted" is another indie novel I found out about through a review inquiry; the author actually let us know about her series debut The Emperor's Edge and while I liked its blurb/excerpt and asked for a review e-copy, I also noticed her other novel Encrypted which tempted me so much that I bought it on the spot and read it soon after.
Of course I plan to read The Emperor's Edge too - it starts great with the same engaging style of Encrypted - so in a month or so, I should have a review of that one here too, but for now I will talk about Encrypted since it resonated with me quite a lot and I want to explain why - the essential reason is because of its very close similarity in spirit and style with one of my all time favorite duologies.
Encyrpted is set some 15-20 years earlier in the same universe of The Emperor's Edge and it is a standalone with mostly different characters, though one of the main characters from the latter one appears here too in a pretty important role, so from that point of view it makes also a great introduction to the universe.
"Professor Tikaya Komitopis isn’t a great beauty, a fearless warrior, or even someone who can walk and chew chicle at the same time, but her cryptography skills earn her wartime notoriety. When enemy marines show up at her family’s plantation, she expects the worst. But they’re not there to kill her. They need her to decode mysterious runes, and they ask for help in the manner typical of a conquering empire: they kidnap her, threaten her family, and throw her in the brig of their fastest steamship.
Her only ally is a fellow prisoner who charms her with a passion for academics as great as her own. Together, they must decipher mind-altering alchemical artifacts, deadly poison rockets, and malevolent technological constructs, all while dodging assassination attempts from a rival power determined the expedition should fail... "
OVERVIEW: Encrypted is set on a secondary world with a mix of paranormal stuff like telepathy and teleportation and early industrial tech.
There is a militaristic empire - Turgonian - that shuns magic and which faces the "magicians" of Nuria, the "mysterious" scientist from the formerly neutral and pastoral islands of Kyatt who helped the Nurians once the empire offered the islanders a deal it would not take no as an answer on, Tikaya Komitopis, a socially awkward woman with a talent for languages who breaks the Turgonian codes leading to their containment and reluctant truce, the mysterious artifacts that prove deadly in the Turgonian capital forcing them to kidnap Tikaya from her peaceful island and try and convince her to help them, the prisoner known as Five on the Turgonian ironclad that speeds towards the frozen wastes were the artifacts had come from, the Nurian saboteurs and later the expedition to find the artifacts and the surprises it encounters.
As you can see from this overview, substituting "paranormal" with advanced biotech and the one-world of this book with a multi-stellar polity and you get something that resembles in spirit the superb pre-Miles dulogy of Lois Bujold that starts with Shards of Honor and more than once when reading Encrypted, I thought the comparison apt in quite a few ways.
While today "Encrypted" fits under secondary world fantasy mainly for its elements of paranormal, for most of sff's history it would have been considered pure-sf since teleportation, telekinesis and telepathy have been staples of sf for a long time, so this is a book that should appeal to both lovers of fantasy and sf.
ANALYSIS: Why read Encrypted?
The first reason is that the novel is written in a very fast, page turning and fun way, alternating action, discovery with great dialogue especially between Tikaya and Rias - as this is the name the prisoner known as "Five" gives her once they get to know each other - but with several other compelling characters, most notably Bocrest, the Turgonian commander of the ship and expedition, the "good" corporal Agarik vs nasty sergeant Ottotark and later the young boy/assassin Sicarius, personal representative of the emperor and a familiar acquaintance of Rias and Bocrest.
As the main lead of the novel, Tikaya carries it well end-to-end and she makes a very compelling heroine - an almost genius philologist in her mid-30's with a talent for languages and patterns, neither beautiful, nor graceful but with a talent for bow shooting and courage and wit to match, while the Turgonian men around her - whether resenting or even hating her for her role in their defeat in the war, being neutral, or being friendly and more - offer a great contrast and variety. Rias slowly develops from the almost savage Five to the charismatic war-hero he used to be and later in the novel he almost takes it over, while Sicarius - who seems to be the main lead in The Emperor's Edge 15-20 years in the future -is excellent in his role of enigmatic boy-assassin here.
So despite starting as the enemies and with their militaristic and patriarchal culture to boot, the author's portrayal of the Turgonians is quite nuanced, while Kitaya's supposed allies the Nurians actually want to kill her - maybe for good reasons from their point of view - and this reversal of roles and expectations was another reason I enjoyed the book.
The expedition, its discoveries, the mysterious runes and deadly artifacts are also very well done combining the familiar with twists that were partly predictable, partly surprising, but that never failed to entertain, while the action builds up with both physical and psychological components until the excellent finale. I would not want to spoil more about the core of the novel since a large part of the enjoyment of the book lies in trying to figure out what's what before the heroes experience it...
Encrypted (A+) is a fun romp, an adventure in the Lois Bujold Barrayar spirit, with a clear ending though ample scope for more and which I highly recommend if you like your sff fast, page turning with action, mysteries and a dash of romance.