Ace, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-937007-82-9
WARNING! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME UNHAPPY DETAILS ABOUT THE FATE OF A RECURRING SECONDARY CHARACTER.
Steel’s Edge is the final book in Ilona Andrews’s The Edge series, although the author may visit this setting again in the future. It’s the end because all the marriageable adults in the main cast are either married or dead by the end of this book, and the author also closes the story arc on the villainous Spider.
Charlotte de Ney was previously a typical noble lady of Adrianglia, married to a genteel fellow whom she believes she is in love with. She is also one of the rare individuals born with the magical ability to heal other people by manipulating and even reconstructing tissues and bones. When she discovered that she was barren, however, her husband decided to annul their marriage, apparently because he forgot to let her know before they got hitched that he needs an heir to inherit and, oh, he only wanted her for her female bits, which he knew then weren’t going to give him the heir he needed. He was pretty bitchy and even cruel to her when she told him that she was barren, so she lost it and showed her the true extent her powers.
You see, Charlotte can heal as well as she can kill. Healers like her have the abilities to manipulate infections, so if she wants to, she can cause and accelerate any deadly infectious disease. A reason why healers are taught to rein in their negative impulses is because, should they indulge in their baser instincts, they may lose their ability to control themselves – they would stop only when there is no one else to kill. Healers who gone rogue like this are called abominations and are usually killed on sight. (I’m really trying very hard not to make any comparison to the mages in Dragon Age here, I really am.)
After going crazy on her husband a bit, Charlotte decides that she should move to somewhere else to start a new life, preferably somewhere with lower levels of magic, like the Edge. She eventually ends up living in the house formerly owned by Rose Drayton and becoming close to Rose’s grandmother Éléonore. She has only three years of peace, however. When Richard Mar shows up badly injured, Charlotte naturally heals him. While she is away to buy some blood that could be transfused to Richard, however, the slavers who want Richard show up. Charlotte returns too late – she finds Richard recaptured, Éléonore dead, along with another young girl killed and the girl’s sister traumatized by the whole ordeal. She really loses it, then: she seeks out the slavers and slaughters all of them by infecting them with a fatal disease.
Charlotte knows that Richard is on a mission to take down the slavers, and she wants in – she wants to make sure that the slavers will never hurt anyone again. By killing so many people, she has more or less forfeited her life – the people from her former home would kill her if they know what she has done – so now she wants to go out with a bang, so to speak. Richard ends up letting her come along despite his reservations. Besides, he finds the contradiction between her merciful healer personality and her angel of vengeance one pretty hot. Also tagging along are George and Jack, who are now apprenticed to the Mirror.
Steel’s Edge flies straight out of the gate like a cannonball on a mission. It’s quite shocking to see the death of a recurring character, but it’s a death that sets in motion the events of the story without coming off as contrived or gimmicky. The brutality is so typical of this author’s style, but this particular brutality only underscores the grim and harsh life on the Edge. Charlotte’s duality is fascinating – she’s a healer as much as a killer, and her slide down the slippery slope to becoming a monster is very well done. I admire her determination and intentions even as I cringe at how she has to do some things that she aren’t cut out to do. Richard has her pegged correctly: she may be able to kill and what not, but she is going to have a hard time living with what she has done, even if she has good intentions. Charlotte is a capable heroine, one of the better ones I’ve come across in urban fantasy stories, and I love the way the author portrays this character’s growth. Charlotte ends up being someone darker and less idealistic, but she’d be a stronger and better person as a result.
Richard is more of a standard action hero, but he has some pretty good chemistry with Charlotte. This is a romance where both characters are fully aware of the other person’s strengths and flaws, so it’s almost certain that these two would be alright for the long run. However, Richard’s past here is completely retconned. The author changes the name of his ex-wife and, more annoyingly, transforms that woman into a more familiar “woman who can’t deal with the husband’s lot and fled the coop” character when previously it was said that the separation was caused by both her and Richard being too much alike. Is this rewrite done to make Charlotte come off more obviously as the “right true love” for Richard? It’s not necessary, and the retcon is so shoddily done, it suggests that the author hasn’t been keeping track of the continuity of her own series.
Also, maybe because Richard’s a guy who is playing a romance hero. elevates him to be the guy in charge of the Mar family when in previous books it was his sister Cerise in charge due to Cerise being better at swordplay. One of the things about this series that get to me a little is how the recurring characters are always the guys, as if the feisty bloodthirsty women in past books quietly retreat to being the adoring ornament on their husbands’ arms once they have found their happy ending. Cerise is really tough and in-your-face badass, so to have her status downgraded just to make Richard’s penis seem bigger really cuts at me a bit. I know, there is a school of thought out there that females in urban fantasies have little value apart from being the hero’s one true love, because many readers apparently only care about the gang of heroes that spawn the series. These readers would swear that agony is spelled with a H and can name every guy in the Black Dagger Brotherhood, but ask them to list down the heroines’ names and they would blink at you. But come on, we already have JR Ward, Kresley Cole, and all those others flooding the urban fantasy and paranormal market with books to make those readers happy. Surely there is some room for heroines to shine now and then too, as recurring characters?
Steel’s Edge also loses much of its, er, edge in the second half or so, when the action moves to the ballrooms and gaming hells of town. The teenagers in this story tend to have abilities to take down powerful veteran characters just because they’re written to be that awesome, but here, the use of that Wilykit-and-Wilykat plot gimmick is especially unbelievable as it takes down the big bad of the series. Maybe this whole thing is a sly play on the author’s part to demonstrate how Mary Sue brats can literally kill, but come on, this is the last book in the series, why not go out on something that is not an anticlimax like this? Also, things are pretty rushed in the last few chapters, and it’s hard to believe how easy Charlotte gets back to being her old self after all that angst about becoming an abomination and blowing up the Chantry… oops, wrong game.
There is much to like about Steel’s Edge: Charlotte, the interesting insight into healing magic, a glimpse into the slave trade of Adrianglia (which in the past was often portrayed as the “good” country). However, it also suffers from shoddy errors that mar the continuity in this series and a later half that feels rushed and half-baked. I wish the author would come back to this world one day and give everyone the goodbye that we all deserve.