Ace, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-02086-7
Fate’s Edge brings everyone back to the Edge, basically a free-for-all wild west zone in the boundary of the Broken and the Weird. In this world, the Broken is the world we know, while the Weird is an alternate version of the Broken, where magic rules. Both the Weird and the Broken exist in the same dimension, separated by magical borders that the Broken folks can’t detect and more magic-attuned Weird folks can’t cross. Folks living at the Edge tend to be Weird folks who decide to lay low and do their thing mostly outside the law of the Weird nations. They follow their own rules, but at the same time, they are never truly free of the baggage they hope to leave behind in the Weird, as books in this series would show.
Fate’s Edge can stand alone very well, but folks new to the series should be aware that the hero in this one, Kaldar Mar, has close ties to the folks introduced in the previous two books, and several teenagers first introduced in those books tag along here. There may be some references to ideology and concepts that new readers may not immediately get, so perhaps it’s better to read those books first before tackling this one.
In this one, it all begins when Audrey Callahan’s father seeks her out to help the family. If she doesn’t see any member of her family again, it’d be great, because her parents doted so much on her elder brother, a junkie who feels that the world owes him everything, to the point that when this brother sold her to a dealer for some drugs back when she was seventeen, her parents didn’t seem to bother at all. She’s only the daughter, and was useful to them only because her magical skills at breaking locks comes in handy for this family of thieves and con men. She quit the family, moved to the Edge, and has just been hired as a full-time PI at an agency in the Broken version of Washington, DC.
When the story opens, however, her father wants her to help them steal something big, so that he can send her brother into an expensive rehab center. Aggravated by memories of her past and infuriated by the way her family persists in pretending that they can help a son that refuses to change, she strikes a bargain with her father: if she helps out this one time, her father will never bother her ever again. She can pretend that she is an orphan and live her life in peace. It doesn’t seem like a bad deal…
… Except that she will learn later that she has helped her father and her brother break in to steal a magical relic that the Egyptians – who are very powerful in the Weird version of our world – and they want it back. Worse, her father arranged to sell the relic to the Hand of the Dukedom of Louisiana, in an outpost called Adriana, and things didn’t go well as the Hand tried to betray them. The resulting mess alerted everyone to the crime, and now the Egyptians want the Andranglian Mirror to get the relic back before they send their own dreaded special task force the Claws of Bast to do the dirty job. The Hands want the relic too. And right now, Audrey is one of the few people alive on these folk’s list of “people we need to nab right now” without realizing it.
Kaldar lost many family members to the Hand after the events in Bayou Moon, and now he willingly works with the Mirror to get to Spider, the head of the Hand, and kill that SOB to avenge those who’d lost their lives to the Hand. He is charged to track down the thieves, and he eventually finds Audrey. He brings along a teenage kid as an assistant, and also finds two more teenagers to care for when those teenagers decide to tag along anyway. Audrey is horrified when she realizes the mess her theft has caused, and decides to help Kaldar recover the relic from whoever her father sold it to to put a stop to what seems to be shaping up to a diplomatic nightmare for everyone. Meanwhile, hot on her heels are the Hand, led by Spider’s niece who is determined to make everyone pay for what happened to Spider by the end of the last book.
Unlike the previous book Bayou Moon, which is a claustrophobic tale of open warfare in the swampland of the Edge, Fate’s Edge is a lighter tale, basically a road trip adventure where Kaldar and Audrey play Scarecrow and Mrs King while trying to keep three teenage boys in line along the way. He’s charming, seductive, glib, and violent as hell. She’s a very good thief, a little more obviously nice goody-goody person compared to Kaldar, and she can be violent as hell when she has to be. The three brats may be teenagers, but they are wonderfully violent. If there is anything to complain about these folks, it’s how they are often so capable to the point that I have a hard time taking the story seriously. As the main villain puts it, a team comprising a man and a woman and a boy being capable of taking down four genetically-modified hardened killers in a fight that doesn’t seem fair to the hardened killers even a little – how did that happen?
Reading this story sometimes makes me feel like I’m watching a cartoon where the heroes have awesome powers that make them completely outclass the inept villains. But at least He-Man and Lion-O have big swords that give them powers and the X-Men have awesome powers thanks to genetic mutation. Here, the Hand are experienced and ruthless killers whose magical skills are augmented through body modification. There’s no reason why they are so incompetent when facing our heroes, so the poor villains all end up coming off as more bark than bite. Oh, they kill and torture some powerless humans or some under-powered mensch – good for them. But they are clobbered and have their rear ends handed to them by young boys who have no serious training, so I don’t know, maybe the whole Hand can just pack up and be good little lemmings committing suicide because they are never going to live this one down.
The romance is pretty light weight, but that’s okay – I don’t read these stories for romance first and foremost, and I actually like how the romance doesn’t have too many “serious” moments where everyone gazes at his or her navel and sigh over feelings and what not – the better to focus on the fun stuff like people getting dismembered and more in wonderfully gory ways. Indeed, despite the rather obvious ways in which the good guys outclass the bad guys, Fate’s Edge is an at-the-edge-of-my-seat read. It’s a fun mix of investigative trailing and gleeful butchery. Kaldan is a charming fellow who can lie to you as well as he slices you open, while Audrey won’t hesitate to shoot you point blank in the head if she thinks that will make the world a better place. The boys… well, they are the Dragon Ball Z brats on steroids. Even the villains have their moments here.
Fate’s Edge is a bit of step down after the excellent Bayou Moon, but it’s still a wonderful action-packed read from start to finish. If there is a better balance in terms of the good guys’ abilities versus the bad guys’, this one would have been a surefire winner. As it is, well, it sort of misses the mark now and then, but it packs a punch right on target in many ways that count.
Cantankerous muffin who loves boys that sparkle, unicorns, money, chocolates, and fantastical stories.