I’m a big fan of Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series. This husband-and-wife writing team produces some of the most original, best written, and just plain fun urban fantasy out there. So I was excited to hear that Andrews was starting a second series. I expected great characters, a well developed fantasy world, lots of action, and (given the cover) at least a touch of romance. I wasn’t disappointed.
If you’re familiar with Kate Daniels’ world, you know that magic and tech succeed each other in waves: When the magic is up, cars and other technological devices won’t run, electric lights go out, and skyscrapers crumble. When the tech is up, magic won’t work but the machines and technology do. In a sense, On the Edge takes this temporal distribution of magic and technology and makes it spatial: the Weird is a magical realm that could be the setting for an epic fantasy, and the Broken is an everyday place devoid of magic. Here’s how the book’s back cover copy describes these realms:
The Broken is a place where people shop at Wal-Mart and magic is nothing more than a fairy tale. The Weird is a realm where blueblood aristocrats rule and the strength of your magic can change your destiny.
Between them is the Edge, where the Weird and the Broken overlap. It’s a place that takes a little from both worlds but belongs to neither. And it’s the home of Rose Drayton and her family. Rose takes care of her two, much younger brothers and works for a cleaning company in the Broken, struggling to make ends meet. She also has a talent for magic, her “flash” — the magic that all Edgers can draw from themselves — is unusually pure and strong, and she can wield it with skill. Rose worked hard to develop her skill, hoping it would impress her peers. Instead, she frightened them and made herself more of a commodity than a person. When the book opens, Rose isn’t exactly a pariah, but she keeps to herself and her family.
Foul, magic-hungry creatures invade the Edge from the Weird, threatening Edgers’ lives. With them comes Declan, a blueblood nobleman from the Weird. Rose assumes that Declan wants her for the power of her flash; many nobles from the Weird have already tried to buy or steal her for use as a sort of magical brood mare. Now, Rose and Declan agree to a series of tests: If Declan can complete three Herculean tasks devised by Rose, she’ll go with him into the Weird, essentially becoming his property. If he fails, he’ll go away and leave Rose and her family alone.
The challenges are a fun way to show the conflict and the romantic tension that builds between Rose and Declan. Declan is more than he seems, and he quickly establishes himself as a sympathetic character: brave, loyal, eager to do what’s right. It’s tons of fun to watch the sparks (and the flash) fly between these two as they have to work together to drive away the creatures that menace the Edge.
Supporting characters are beautifully drawn, especially Rose’s younger brothers Jack (a changeling who was born as a kitten) and George (who has both a soft heart and the power to raise the dead). These two are utterly believable, both as young boys and also as quasi-magical creatures, and the scenes written in their points of view were some of my favorites. I also liked Rose’s grandmother, who’s made three-dimensional through hints of her own past youth and passions. She’s wise, but we also get a sense that she earned her wisdom.
The villain is creepy, crazy, and truly frightening. For various reasons, allies are uncertain, and there’s no question that the climactic battle will be an action-packed challenge. It really pays off.
On the Edge has more romance than the Kate Daniels series (one of the pleasures of that series is the one-step-forward-two-steps-back dance between Kate and Curran), but I wouldn’t call it a romance. That’s because Andrews packs so much into this book; whether Rose and Declan will get together, while important, is not the central question of the book. Rose is such a living, breathing character — concerned with her family, protecting her world, and her own nearly vanished hopes and dreams — that the book’s romance element is a bonus.
On the Edge combines fantasy, adventure, romance, action, and a touch of mystery with strong characters and Andrews’ trademark humor to create an absorbing, satisfying read.
Note: Ilona Andrews and I share a publisher, but I purchased this book myself and get no personal benefit from praising it here. I just enjoyed the book and wanted to say so.