Thursday, August 12, 2010

Leaping off the Edge... and into the Weird

It's hard working up much excitement about rereading most books; once a tale has been told and whatever suspense it held is gone, there's little incentive to spend scarce reading time in going over old ground. Like, meh.

If I am going to reread a book, though, there'd better be some pretty spectacular characters involved--ones that can reel me in despite the fact that I already know what's going to happen.

So, when I found myself on three separate flights over a four-day period last weekend--trusty Kindle tucked away in my purse as befitting such a faithful travel companion--I clicked through my existing e-library for something to alleviate the boredom of flying solo. My main requirement was that it be something I hadn't read in awhile, but would enjoy revisiting. (Even better, in terms of the blog, would be something I'd never gotten around to reviewing.) Lo and behold, I found just such a book. (And, since the sequel to my selection is set to drop at the end of next month, it's also a timely one. So, that's what we're gonna call a win-win. :))

*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****  

Although I can't technically say this with any degree of authority, I suspect that most people picture one of two things when thinking about the rural Deep South here in America. Many of them likely conjure up some Tara-esque ideal--an immense plantation house surrounded by lush trees and flowers, with genteel, white-frocked ladies wearing beribboned sunhats, and dapper, pale-suited men in straw boaters, lounging on verandas and idly sipping juleps. (Whether or not that's ever been a remotely accurate portrayal of any part of the South, I have no idea, but nowadays such an idyllic tableau is probably only to be found by going on one of those scenic antebellum tours.)

The other popular depiction is that of a dirt-poor family, living in a ramshackle house that's seen better decades... a hound dog or two lounging on the yard out front, a rusting old pickup on blocks under a shade tree, and some discarded appliances cast haphazardly in the overgrown backyard... with the females of the house clad in serviceable calico dresses or cut-off shorts and midriff-baring tops, and the fellows in beat-up jeans and the ubiquitous undershirt-tank tops (or "wifebeaters", as they're now oh-so-charmingly called).

Like everything else, the reality of modern rural life south of the Mason-Dixon line is probably a mixture of the two images... but leaning a bit more toward the second one. (Think about it. This is the 21st-century. Short of having a very good reason which I can't even imagine, no one in his or her right mind is going to sweat in a suit or flouncy dress on his/her own front porch, idly nursing a mint julep while swatting horseflies in the sultry heat, unless they're waiting for a cab. That's just not happening, people.) Plus, you don't have to live in the country, or the South, or even the U.S., for that matter, to know that there are a whole lot more common, ordinary, Joe-lunchboxes than there are fancy schmoes.

That's definitely the case in the Edge and the Broken--two fictional swathes of land encompassing rural Georgia (and then some), in author Ilona Andrews' 2009 release, On the Edge. (Not that this kind of realistic demographic should come as any big surprise to fans of Andrews' popular Urban Fantasy "Magic" series, of course, which also features a motley assortment of mostly have-not-so-much characters... though in the considerably-more urban setting of Atlanta.)

The Broken is very much a rural Everytown, USA, full of regular folks who shop at Wal-Mart, eat at McDonald's, and patronize their local banks, insurance agencies, cleaners, car dealers, and the like. Their children attend the small public schools. Police work at keeping the peace, and churches attempt to instill some sort of doctrine. There's a shortage of excitement; the arrival of a traveling fair is a big deal.

The Edge, on the other hand, is more like the dirt-poor image of the South above, because the people who live in the Edge have magic, but precious little else. There are shapeshifters, spell-casters, seers, and necromancers. And then, there are those who can "flash", producing a visual display of power serving as part force-field, part laser. People who live in the Edge do so because that's where their magic works; outside of the Edge--say, in the Broken--their magic ceases to function (and eventually dies, should they remain). So, the Edgers go to schools and take jobs in the Broken, then return home each night to where the magic lives. (Meanwhile, those living in the Broken are unawares of any magic, because they have none and have never seen it.)

Rose Drayton lives in the Edge. A young woman in her early 20s, she drives her old truck across the border each morning to work for a commercial cleaning operation all day, then drives back home in the evening so she can take care of her two younger brothers, Jack and Georgie. There's never enough money; two growing boys always need something. Still--and with major echoes of the Waltons, here--the Draytons are mostly happy; they have each other.

Until fairly recently, though, their lives had been anything but peaceful. When Rose foolishly let everyone else see how powerful her flashing ability was a couple years earlier, their lives became a living hell, as people sought, by turns, to kill her (and her family), capture (in order to sell) her, or tried to marry (or just mate with) her... all because her power was so rare as to be something seen only once in a hundred years, if that. From that point on, the Draytons had one valuable possession--Rose.

Rose (and her family) had other plans, though, and after rejecting a passel of suitors (and simultaneously causing the more determined ones no small degree of pain and embarrassment), defeating a number of aggressors, and even killing a couple of particularly vicious ones, Rose and family are now left mostly to their own devices in the lawless world of the Edge. Until suddenly, that is, everything starts to change.

Rose meets an appealing--but vaguely off-kilter--man at the Wal-Mart in the Broken. (Georgie and Jack are hooked on the handsome stranger; she, not so much.) She accidentally hits another man in the road with her truck--a man who subsequently vanishes. People start disappearing from the Edge. Animals behave strangely. There are all sorts of signs that some never-before-seen evil has made its way into the area.

And then... well, then a mysterious stranger shows up on Rose's lawn, dressed in the garb of nobles, straight out of the Weird. (What? Oh, did I forget to mention the third-and-final division in this kinda-like-ours-but-not-quite world?)  The Weird is the entirely magical land, and it's something of a hybrid--modern enough, except that the inhabitants don't have any electricity. So, they ride horses, don't have power-anythings, and everyone's apparel hails from at least two centuries ago. There are castles, and an entire class of nobility, and, well, other stuff like that. The Weirders are all quite powerful and skilled at their magics, though, and just like the residents of the Edge, they can function fine in the Edge, but lose their powers once they cross into the Broken.

Anyway, after determining that this stranger surely hails from the Weird (mostly because they just don't grow men like that in her world), Rose comes to the conclusion that the drop-dead handsome noble on her lawn must be there for the sole purpose of having her--marrying her (or whatever it takes to get the job done)--and we already know just how she feels about that. Eventually the two of them reach an agreement of sorts, though: he, Declan, will help protect her and her family while they deal with whatever evil has made its way into the Edge, which service she will repay by giving him the chance to win her hand... but only upon the successful completion of three tests. (So, if he passes all three tests, he gets himself a spunky Edge wife. If he fails, though, it's back to the Weird for him, still a lonely, single man.)

What follows is an exciting-fun-scary adventure, as the little group learns just what the evil thing really is, what it wants, and how it plans to accomplish its nefarious schemes. (It is truly evil. And repulsive. And bad-nasty-nightmare kind of scary. Good stuff.) And, obviously, there's also plenty of bantering, teasing, arguing, and flirting between Rose and Declan, as she contrives increasingly-difficult tests for him, while he attempts to win her over the old-fashioned way (with his charm and innate hunkiness).

It's really the charm of all the characters which drives this story and makes it such a compelling read, though. Andrews has given each character an engaging personality, and created a believable family dynamic in which they interact. Rose is smart, long-suffering, kind, cunning... and once-bitten/twice-shy when it comes to the whole relationship thing. Little Georgie is a fragile creature, a necromancer with a tender heart, who can't bear to see things die. Jack (who shifts into a little lynx--and OMGosh, how much do I love that?!?) is wily, curious, and courageous. (The two young boys are both irresistible, and their interactions with each other, with Rose, and with Declan made me melt like an ice cream cone on a sweltering August day... which never happens to me and kid characters.) And of course there's Declan, who, well... he's truly the stuff of fairy tales (or romance novels), with his strapping build, flowing locks, wicked sense of humor, and sheer Raw Masculine Appeal. (Sorry for the caps, but... really, he's all that and a bag of chips.) How they deal with each other--as well as with various other residents of all three "worlds"--makes for some some thoroughly entertaining reading.

On the Edge definitely falls under the Paranormal Romance heading, but I kind of hate to pigeonhole it that way. There's enough action going on--plenty of magic and violence, plus a little politics and history--so that, to me, it fits nearly as neatly under the Urban Fantasy umbrella. Labels aside, though, it's really just a fun, fast-paced read... the kind of thing worth another look, even, for the pure pleasure of encountering these delightful characters all over again.

GlamKitty catnip mousie rating: 4.25 out of 5 mousies

[Note: The sequel to On the Edge--Bayou Moon--will be out late Sept. 2010, featuring a different group of characters from the same worlds.]

2 comments:

  1. I've been waiting until a bit closer to Bayou Moon to finally read On the Edge, and now the time is almost here! I'm finishing my reread of the Study and Glass books before Spy Glass comes out Sept. 1st, then if I'm not mistaken An Artificial Night comes out, and then I shall be reading Bayou Moon. Somewhere in there I'll work in On the Edge. Finally, LOL.

    ReplyDelete
  2. If I were making a comparison, I'd probably liken the world(s) in "On the Edge" most closely to Patricia Briggs' "Sianim" books and Maria Snyder's "Study" series. They are similar in that they have more of a pure-fantasy bent, and all of them evoke a dreamier sort of place. :)

    ReplyDelete