by Ilona Andrews, fantasy (2009)
Ace, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01780-5
Imagine that we have two different dimensions co-existing together. One dimension is the one we are familiar with - it's the boring version of Earth as we know it. The other dimension is like Earth, only, it's a complete opposite of the Earth we know in every way. From the history to the geography, everything in this Earth is the reverse of that from our Earth. Not only that, magic thrives. And best of all, instead of planes, they use wyverns and manticores in their Air Force. Cool!
The boring Earth is called Broken, because magic doesn't exist there any longer, while the magical Earth is called Weird for obvious reasons. And where the two dimensions overlap, we have the Edge. In the Edge live folks who call themselves, creatively, the Edgers. They are humans born with enough power to discern and cross the boundaries separating the Broken dimension and the Edge, but they can't cross over to the Weird because they lack enough magic to do so.
Because the Edgers are not many in number, they end up living in small groups, each with their own laws. In other words, the whole place is like one big sprawling trailer park where folks who know each other stick together. Rose Drayton, our heroine, is low on the totem pole of the Edgers living in East Laporte, the part of Edge that borders Georgia. She works as a cleaner in the Broken, eking out a living to support her two preteen brothers (one a shape-shifting cat, one an emo kid who raises the dead and probably looks like an anemic version of Haley Joel Osment). Her life turns upside down one fine day when strange and dangerous monsters start terrorizing the folks of East Laporte and a mysterious gentleman from Weird, Declan Camarine, shows up at her door. Declan's arrival clearly has something to do with the appearance of the monsters and such - so the question here is whether she is making a big mistake by trusting him.
Ilona Andrews' On The Edge is the start of a new urban fantasy series, and I have to say, this book is actually more romance-heavy than any of the author's books in the Magic series. There is a pretty strong emphasis on the developing relationship between Rose and Declan, and depending on your preferences in urban fantasy, this can be a good or an icky thing, heh.
I think I have better say this before I proceed: don't be fooled by the first few chapters of this book. The first few chapters would suggest that this is another generic and even icky clichéd romantic urban fantasy. The heroine Rose is of course special (she has magical abilities hinting that she may be related by blood to the Weird folks) and therefore every male in existence wants to impregnate her. The hero Declan seems to be shaping up to be a boorish alpha male who cares only about himself and his needs while remaining shockingly callous to her plight. The two brats seem to exist only to become accessories to the heroine's Joan of Arc act.
But before you make the sign of the cross and throw this book into a tub of holy water, do muster some patience and keep reading because it isn't long before the author reveals that not everything is what it seems to be. Rose is actually very competent with her magic for someone who hadn't had official training and she holds her own very well here. A part of me will always wonder why she doesn't use her magic to go catch some game in the Woods to feed her family if they are always in need of dough for the food, but I guess I can't expect too much from romance heroines nowadays. The fact that Rose turns out to be a capable and fun non-annoying heroine is enough for me.
I am not too fond of Declan because of the stunt he pulls with Rose at the start and the fact that he is actually the most boring guy in the story. Okay, so he's good at taking care of the brats, but he's bland. Another character correctly points out to Rose that Declan has had a privileged background and, despite his time in the military, he has had it very easy all his life. Compare him to that character, a tortured shifter who has never known a home or a loving family, and I find myself wondering when that character is getting his story. Even the villain is more interesting than Declan. It's the Arag Is Actually Adorable principle at work here all over again: the author has created a rather clichéd romance hero ideal as her main male character, so much so that I personally find the grievously flawed antiheroes and even villains far more sympathetic and even appealing here.
On the other hand, I can't fault Declan's stability and reliability in this story. His strongest appeal in this story lies in how he wants to protect the heroine and her family, even if it means losing his life in the process, without hovering over the heroine or becoming too dominant in their relationship. So yes, even if he's a bit too much of a boring aristocratic elf-like type for my liking, I can buy that he'll take good care of Kate while respecting her and giving her enough space to become her own person. Of course, this may change in the next book, who knows, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the author will allow Declan to remain who he is here, a hero with a nice balance of alpha and beta tendencies.
The plot is... well, I like the setting. I love the whole "magical trailer park in the Wild Wild West" feel of the Woods. I also love the two brats Georgie and Jack, especially when I think about how annoying they could have been in another author's hands. The two kids are pretty realistic for paranormal spook brats, from Jack's curiosity to Georgie's emo impersonation of that brat in The Sixth Sense. They act their age, in other words, without coming off like creepy matchmakers or such. But the plot can be quite uneven. Sometimes, it's very good - the story is gripping, nerve-wrecking, and has me at the edge of my seat. But sometimes, the pace sags and the story introduces scenes that seem like filler to me. Also, it's quite disappointing that the author does to Rose the same thing that she always does to Kate Daniels: Rose faints after doing her epic whoa-what-power impressive display of magic, thus robbing me of scenes of the events that take place after that show of awesomeness. I am therefore cheated of a dramatic aftermath. All I get instead is a build-up to an exciting climax, some gripping confrontation, the heroine faints, and then, we cut forward to a time when everything is fine again. The pay-off isn't as satisfying as I'd have liked.
Speaking of which, yes, this book is nowhere as violent as those Magic books. Not that I am complaining in this instance, since I get a pretty satisfying romance in place of delicious gore, but if you don't like romance and consider it icky in your urban fantasy stories, you may want to approach this one with caution.
All in all, On The Edge is, all things considered, a pretty solid and most entertaining introduction to this new series. The story is very good when the author is on the roll, and most of the main characters do make an impact at the end of the day on me. It has many recognizable elements in it that mark it clearly as a book by Ilona Andrews, but the story also has a completely different atmosphere, feel, and setting. I'm knocking on wood and hoping that both Rose Drayton and Kate Daniels will keep entertained for a long time to come!
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