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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Ilona Andrews: THE EDGE SERIES

Author:  Ilona Andrews (Pseudonym for Andrew and Ilona Gordon)
Series:  THE EDGE
Plot Type:  Romantic Fantasy
Ratings:  V4; S4; H3
Publisher and Titles: 
          On the Edge (2009)
          Bayou Moon (2010)
          Fate's Edge (2011)
          Steel's Edge (11/2012) (FINAL)

     This post was revised and updated on 1/15/13 to include a review of the fourth and FINAL book in the series: Steel's Edge. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first three books:

          BOOK 4:  Steel's Edge          
     The fourth and final novel tells the story of Richard Mar (aka The Hunter) and Charlotte de Ney, a powerful Healer. Richard is the brother of Kaldar Mar, the hero of book 3. He has been tasked by Declan (hero of book 1 and now an Adrianglian Duke) to identify the villains who are running the slave trading operation in Adrianglia. The slave traders are the scourge of both the Edge and the Broken as they sweep in and either murder or enslave the inhabitants at will. Richard lost two nieces to the slavers—one murdered and one emotionally damaged. We met the second niece—Sophia, aka Lark—in book 2, and she plays critical role in this book. Richard has dedicated his life to eliminating the slavers. His marriage is long since over, and he believes that he is destined to live and die alone. Charlotte was taken from her family early in her childhood and raised among the bluebloods of the Weird, where she was adopted by a powerful female healer soon developing into the most powerful healer in the Weird. After Charlotte's ten years of service as a healer ended, she married a blueblood and lived a relatively happy life, right up until she was diagnosed as being barren. At that point, her husband had the marriage annulled, and Charlotte turned her back on the Weird and made a life for herself in the Edge with the help of Éléonore, grandmother of Rose (heroine of book 1, married to Declan).

     One day, three years after Charlotte moved to the Weird, Richard is captured by slavers and then escapes. Wounded, he manages to make his way to the Edge, where he is rescued by Éléonore and healed by Charlotte. Unfortunately, the slavers track him down and tragedy ensues. The plot of this novel focuses on Charlotte and Richard as they team up to stop the slavers once and for all. 

     As the plot unwinds, we get resolutions to several loose ends from previous books, specifically, the identity and whereabouts of the father of Rose, Jack, and George; the fate of Spider, the murderous head of the Hand (the Louisiana Dukedom's special ops group); and updates on the lives of Rose and her brothers. Like the other books in the series, this one contains some violent scenes, and some of the good guys and gals don't make it to the end. Unlike the previous books, the hero and the heroine are among those who suffer tremendous physical changes and/or injuries, although we know from the beginning that they will eventually get their well-earned HEA.

     I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, Richard and Charlotte are sympathetic, well-drawn characters and their adventures are compelling. But on the other and, the plot has some huge holes. For example, near the end of the book, Charlotte appears at a blueblood social function, but no one recognizes her. When Charlotte was younger, she attended blueblood functions, and she was married to a blueblood up until three years ago, so why is she treated like a stranger by the nobility of the Weird? Surely, many of the bluebloods would remember her. Also, Charlotte makes a big point of the fact that her ex-husband hates and fears her, but once she leaves him, he is never seen again. This seems like a wasted opportunity for a bit of drama. Another problem occurs with the climactic showdown between Richard and the blueblood running the slavery operation. The strategic planning that sets up the scene is much more interesting than the showdown itself. And then there's the final resolution of the romance, which is kind of weird and somewhat unsatisfying. There are other plot problems, but they can't be explained without giving out spoilers—which I try to avoid. All in all, this is not my favorite book in the series (that would be book 3), but I have enjoyed the rest of series so much that I'll give the authors a pass. Click HERE to read an excerpt

     On the authors' web site, they discuss the difficulties involved in labeling this series. Is it just plain fantasy? Rustic fantasy? A modern-day fairy tale? Don't worry about the label. Just enjoy this great series for its fully developed characters, action-filled plots, andmost of allfor its fresh, inventive world building. 

     The series is set in a world with three dimensions: 
>  The Broken: The Broken is the mortal realm. Although its people once held magic, they lost it long ago. When people with magical powers travel into the Broken, all of their magic disappears as soon as they cross the border. Here is one character's description: "Every time [she] crossed into their world, the boundary stripped her magic from her in a rush of pain. That's why people like her called that place the Brokenwhen you passed into it, you gave up a part of  yourself, and it left you feeling incomplete. Broken like a clock with a missing gear." (Fate's Edge, p. 5) 
>  The Weird: Geographically, the Weird is a mirror image of the Broken. It is a magical realm, where everyone practices his or her special talents. The bluebloods who rule the Weird have their own defense systems, which include an air force (dragons instead of airplanes) and special forces with license to kill. The Weird is made up of sovereign nations, and each one approaches magic in a slightly different manner.
>  The Edge: The Edge is the narrow strip of land extending from coast of coast where the Broken and the Weird overlap. People here are mostly hybrids, with both Broken and Weird ancestors. Their magic is too weak for them to survive in the Weird, but strong enough that they don't want to give it up to live in the Broken. Some Edgers earn their living in the Broken, traveling back and forth every day to their jobs. They also purchase all of their manufactured goods in the Broken. Here is one character's description: "It was on the edge of both worlds, a place without countries or cops, where the castoffs like her washed ashore....The Edge took everyone. Swindlers, thieves, crazed separatists, clannish families, all were welcome, all were dirt-poor, and all kept to themselves. The Edgers gave no quarter and expected no sympathy." (Fate's Edge, p. 6)
     Here, a character describes the relationship between the Edge and the Weird: "...on one side lay the Weird and the other the Broken. Two dimensions, existing side by side, like mirror images of each other. In the place where the dimensions 'touched,' they intersected slightly, forming a narrow ribbon of land that belonged to both of themthe Edge. In the Weird, magic pooled deeply; in the Edge it was a shallow trickle. But in the Broken, no magic shielded them at all." (The Edge, p. 4) The authors seamlessly weave the mythology of this world into the story, with no bulky chunks of awkward exposition.

     In both the Edge and the Weird, one of the most coveted magical talents is the ability to flash, that is, to be able to pull together your power and throw it out as a brilliant, fiery weapon. The lighter the flash, the greater the power, so a brilliant white flash is the most desired of all. Supposedly, only the bluebloodsthe nobility of the Weirdcan produce the white flash. The white flash is so important that marriages are frequently arranged so that a person with white-flashing ability can add their genes to a lesser-powered family's line. Here is one character's description: "In the Weird, the power of your magic and the color of your flash determined the course of your life. The brighter you flashed, the better. If you flashed white, you could rub elbows with bluebloods, the Weird's aristocratic families." (Fate's Edge, p. 6)

     In each book, an Edger meets her soul mate, who is either another Edger or a citizen of the Weird. The stories revolve around the romance, but the secondary plot lines are just as important as the romances. Each heroine has siblings with magic-related problems. Click HERE to visit THE EDGE website. 

          BOOK 1:  On the Edge         
     The opening scene might lead you to believe that this is a zombie novel when walking-dead Grandpa Cletus breaks out of his chains and his grand-daughter has to shoot him between the eyes with her crossbow. But no, Grandpa's living-dead state isn't due to a zombie plague. Instead, it's the result of the tender feelings of Georgie, his soft-hearted, 8-year-old, necromancing grandson, who can't help but use his talents to keep living things alivebirds, snakes, kittens, and grandfathers. Georgie and his 10-year-old changeling brother, Jack, live with their sister, Rose, in the Edge just a few miles from Savannah, Georgia. Jack's magic gives him the ability to shape-shift into a lynx, while Rose has somehow developed the talent for the rare white flash. Rose was left in sole charge of the boys when her father ran off on a treasure hunt and never returned. Their mother died when the boys were quite young, after living a sad and empty life filled with constant trysts with menboth strangers and (sometimes married) neighbors. Consequently, Rose grew up being called the daughter of a whoreand worse. She makes a meager living cleaning offices in the Broken, earning just enough money to keep her brothers fed and clothed. Her only other living relative is her grandmother, who lives nearby.

     Early in the story, Rose meets two tall, handsome men: Declan and William. It's not difficult to determine which man Rose will choose just by her description of their eyes. Here, Rose characterizes Declan's eyes: "His eyes under thick golden eyebrows froze the air in her lungs. Dark grass green, they smoldered with raw power." (p. 35) And here, she describes William's eyes: "She scrutinized his deep-set hazel eyes. The eyes reassured her: they were honest and direct." (p. 12) Easy to predict which will be the lover and which the friend. Rose meets William when she takes her brothers into the Broken to shop for new shoes. She meets Declan when she nearly runs over him with her truck. William wants to take Rose out to dinner; Declan's motives are deeper and more mysterious. After the near-road-kill incident, Declan shows up one morning at Rose's house where she realizes that he is a blueblood and fears that he wants her for her white-flash DNA. She has been pursued in the past by local men who want to strengthen their family's genes, by slavers who want to sell her to the highest bidder, and by bluebloods who want her as a baby-making machine, so she assumes that Declan is there for the same reason as the rest. Declan proposes a challenge. She will give him three tasks, and if he competes each one successfully, she must go away to his home in the Weird nation of Adrianglia with him as his wife. Since Rose knows that Declan could overpower her with his magic at any moment, she takes the deal, sure that she can trick him into losing.

     In the meantime, something is badly wrong in the Edge. People, sometimes whole families, are missing and horrible hound-like beasts are roaming the woods. Declan promises to protect Rose and her family if she lets him camp out in her spare bedroom. Against her better judgment, Rose acquiesces, and the action begins. The plot follows Rose and Declan as they attempt to defeat the dastardly blueblood who has created the monstrous hounds as his means of gathering more and more power by killing the people of the Edge and draining their magic. This is a terrific book that has everything going for it: an inventive world, a complex but well-executed plot, and wonderful characters, each with his or her own well-drawn personality.  

          Book 2: Bayou Moon         
     This book opens two years later and takes place in the Mire, a swampy section of the Edge that lies between the Broken's Louisiana and the Weird's Dukedom of Louisiana.  The hero, whom we met in the previous book, is William Wolf, the changeling ex-soldier who had a crush on Rose. William has had a hard life: abandoned at birth, raised in a state institution for changelings, court-martialed for saving lives rather than property, and unlucky at love. As the story opens, William is living in a trailer in the Broken when he is approached by the head of the MirrorAdrianglia's covert special ops organizationto locate a mysterious object that is the focus of a search by Spider, the murderous head of the Louisiana Dukedom's own special ops group, called the Hand. William and Spider are old enemies, having fought one-on-one to a draw twice before. William takes the job and heads west for the Mire, where he meets Cerise Mar, the temporary head of her clan, whose territory is located deep in the marshy Mire. Cerise's talent is to be able to force her white-flash magic into her sword, with lethal results. The Mars family is involved in a Hatfield-McCoy-type feud with another powerful Mire family, the Sheeriles, and Cerise is on her way home after picking up some legal documents that will prove the ownership of disputed land. Just days before, the Sheeriles helped Spider and his Hand thugs kidnap Cerise's parents. After an extended period of distrust, Cerise and William team up to track down Spider and Cerise's parents. The plot follows them as they make their way back to the Mars homestead, battle the Sheeriles, and face down Spider and his crew

     In the Weird, each sovereign nation treats magic differently. In Adrianglia,
home of Declan and William, people use magic, but in the Louisiana Dukedom, people become magic. Spider's henchmen (and women) have been magically altered (e.g., with gills, poisonous tentacles, armor-like skin, hands that shoot out poison) so that their bodies are actually weapons in and of themselves. With its multiple plot lines, Bayou Moon's story line is more convoluted that that of On the Edge, and that's not necessarily a good thing. Inserting the feud into the plot allowed the authors to include a number of quirky characters and a very funny courtroom scene, but it is only indirectly related to the Spider plot. Although I'm continuing to enjoy the series, this book was slightly less enthralling than book 1. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Bayou Moon

     Here's an example of the humor as Cerise's Uncle Richard has just watched William butcher 30 members of the Sheerlie family single-handedly and is then told that William is, in fact, a changeling, and that Cerise is in love with him: 
     "Richard drew back...'A changeling,' he finally managed.....'It could be worse,' he said finally. 'Efrenia married an arsonist. Jake's wife is a kleptomaniac. I suppose, a psychopathic spree killer isn't that odd of a choice, considering. We'll just have to work around it. Gods know, we've had practice. He's certainly good in a fight.' " (p. 339) 

          Book 3: Fate's Edge         
     This is the best book of the series so far, with a huge cast of complex and entertaining characters, many of whom we met in previous books. The story begins several years after book 2 as Audrey Callahanthe heroine of the bookagrees to help her con-man father on one last job. When the object that they steal turns out to be a powerful and dangerous secret weapon, the covert ops teams from several Weird nations try to get it back. The first to track Audrey down is Kaldar Mar, cousin of Cerise Mar. Kaldar is now an agent for the Mirror, the lethal undercover group from Adrianglia. Both Audrey and Kaldar have been grifters since childhood, and they soon begin to work together to get the secret weapon back. In the meantime, agents for the Hand are on their trail. 

     To complicate matters, when Kaldar got his orders from the Mirror and left for the West Coast, two young hitchhikers stowed away in the cabin of his wyvern (aka dragonthe Adrianglian version of an airplane). Jack and George (Rose's brothers whom we first met back in book 1) needed a place to hide after Jack lost control of his temper at a social gathering, so they decided that Kaldar was their best bet. Kaldar has no way to get the boys home safely, so he's stuck with them. Also along on the ride is Gaston, another one of Cerise's relatives whom we met in book 2. It's just one big not-so-happy reunion. As it turns out, the three boyswho are all teenagers by nowhave some mad skills of their own and are called upon several times to save the day. The plot follows Kaldar and his motley crew as they don disguises, sneak around in the shadows, steal some valuables, fight several bloody battles, andeventuallymake it home safe and sound. 

Clockwork spider-spy
     This book drifts slightly toward clockwork (an offshoot of steampunk) in a few scenes when Kaldar pulls several mechanical oddities out of his pack to outwit the enemy (e.g., an insect-esque "fax" machine, mechanical spiders—see picture at left). All the while, Kaldar and Audrey are steadily falling head over heels in love. This is a great book, with an intricate plot and lots of exciting action. It's not nearly as violent as book 2, and there slightly fewer weird creatures. By now, Jack and George are both coping with the usual problems of advancing adolescence in addition to the problems that come with their individual magical genetics. Jack, in particular, is having a tough time keeping his animal side under control. The ending leaves a few loose story threadsjust enough to let us know that our heroes and heroines are still in danger from the long and vengeful reach of Spider and the Hand. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

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