Friday 30 November 2012
CBR4 Book 104: "Steel's Edge" by Ilona Andrews
Date begun: November 27th, 2012
Date finished: November 27th, 2012
This is the final book in the Edge series, and while the previous three books more or less can be read independently of each other, this one ties up enough loose ends and contains enough characters from earlier in the series that unfamiliar readers would be recommended both to avoid this review if they don't want spoilers for earlier books, and to start the beginning with On the Edge. Go on. This review will still be waiting until you return, and the books are varying degrees of awesome.
Richard Mar is the head of the once large and unruly Edge clan, which after a huge battle with a very unsavoury character known as Spider and his band of genetically mutated minions in Bayou Moon has had to relocate to the much more magical realm of the Weird, severely depleted after many deaths. Spider was an agent of the intelligence agency known as the Hand. Richard's brother Kaldar swore to get revenge, and joined the rival intelligence agency, the Mirror. Richard chose a different path, and chose to go after the bands of slavers who once kidnapped his young cousin Sophie. Not content to hunt down and kill random bands of slavers, Richard wants to follow the hierarchy all the way to the top, ending the unscrupulous practise once and for all.
If he lives long enough, that is. At the start of the book, Richard is lured into a trap and almost mortally wounded by a small group of slavers. He's saved from near certain death by Charlotte de Ney, an unusually powerful healer from the Weird kingdom of Adrianglia. She sought refuge in the Edge after nearly using her healing powers to kill her husband, who married her for her exalted social position and sought an annulment the minute he discovered that she was barren.
While Charlotte is the most powerful healer in her generation, she cannot use her powers to heal herself. She was taken from her biological family as a young child once her powers were discovered, and trained at the best medical institutions Adrianglia had to offer. Adopted by one of the foremost nobles in the land, Charlotte herself was dubbed a baroness after her years of service. Yet once a healer starts using their powers to harm rather than to heal, they risk setting in motion a devastating chain of events. The more powerful the healer, the more powerful the disaster if they lose control and start inflicting illnesses rather than healing. So Charlotte runs to the Edge, where magical abilities are dampened. Eleonore, the grandmother of Rose, George and Jack from On the Edge lets her rent Rose's old house, and helps introduce her to the locals, so she can help out, and make money.
Charlotte heals Richard, but he's been pursued by the slavers from the Weird, and they are determined to get their hands on him, no matter what the cost. Enraged by their actions, Charlotte returns to the Weird, where she is at full power, determined to destroy the slavers, every last one. Richard realises that while Charlotte is furious, harming others and bringing death doesn't come naturally to her. He tries to dissuade her and change her mind, but when she won't be reasoned with, figures that she's safer with him than pursuing the slavers on her own.
On the surface, Richard and Charlotte may seem like opposites. While Richard may have been brought up with immaculate manners from his Weird grandfather and is deeply noble in spirit, he's still a dirt poor Edger rat with no prospect other than to meet death on his quest to destroy the slavers. Charlotte may have been born humble, but was raised in luxury and trained to be immaculately poised in any situation by one of the most powerful noblewomen in Adrianglia. She's a baroness in her own right after her decade of healing service to the Adrianglian crown, and the adopted daughter of a very influential lady. Despite this, both Richard and Charlotte are very similar, and that's part of the reason why the romance side of this book felt less satisfying in some of the previous Edge books.
Richard's brother Kaldar is a rogue, charmer and consummate con man. He meets his match, Audrey, the daughter of a thief and con artist, in Fate's Edge. The romance in that book is hindered by Audrey's lack of trust in Kaldar, and unwillingness to settle down with a man she fears will be just like her father. They banter and constantly try to best each other, but are basically two sides of the same coin, and it's obvious that they're perfect for each other.
Richard and Charlotte's romance have the same problem. Both characters are devastatingly noble and self sacrificing, to the point of idiocy on occasion. Richard is hunting the slavers so his cousin Sophie won't be forced to do it herself. He's almost sure he's going to die before he discovers the leaders of the organisation, and he doesn't mind laying down his life for the cause. Charlotte is the same. She hates using her abilities to kill, but after experiencing first hand the terror the slavers can bring, she won't stop until she's made sure no man, woman or child is ever hurt by them again. If she has to unleash a plague to do so, so be it.
Also, while both Richard and Charlotte are convinced that the other is horrified and repelled by the other's capacity for bringing death, they fall in love over the course of about three days. Extremely eventful days, mind, but still less than a week. Considering their vastly different backgrounds and social status, a slightly slower development and maybe a bit more conflict would have been nice.
As always, the supporting cast of the book is amazing. Long time readers of the series will see the return of the aforementioned Eleonore, Rose and Declan, Declan's formidable mother (briefly introduced at the end of On the Edge), Jack and George, Sophie (or Lark, as she is known as in Bayou Moon), and of course Kaldar. Sophie is growing into a terribly driven young swordswoman, and Richard is probably right to be worried about her state of mind. Jack and George have aged and developed since their adventures in Fate's Edge and can still make me laugh, even though their subplot in this book is quite a lot darker than in the previous book.
Dark is definitely the operative word for this story. Ilona Andrews said in an interview once that if the series was a meal, On the Edge would be the starter, Bayou Moon the heavy main course, Fate's Edge the frothy and sweet dessert and Steel's Edge the bitter and black coffee at the end of the meal. The subject matter of this book is not a light one. There is death, so much death, and not just for deserving bad guys. I was in tears by the end of chapter three, and several times throughout the book (although some of the tears were happy ones).
A lot of story strands started in earlier books are finished off with this one, and it's a very fitting end to the story. To say that my expectations for this book were high is a massive understatement. I started pining for this book after finishing Fate's Edge a year ago, and every snippet and mention of it just made me want it more. I needed the book to be good, and it is. As Spider and the Hand are the main villains in Bayou Moon and secondary villains in Fate's Edge, I would have liked it if that subplot wasn't finished off almost as an afterthought towards the end of this. Just as the romance between Richard and Charlotte was resolved in no time at all, the final act of the book also felt a bit rushed. None of them are enough to seriously ruin my enjoyment of the book, though, and to be satisfied with the end for the characters.
Ilona and Gordon Andrews have said that they may return to Jack, George and Sophie in a later series, if they have enough material to write their story properly. I certainly hope they do, because these three characters are probably my favourite in the entire series, the world building in these books is excellent, and their writing is amazing. Congratulations on finishing on a high note.