Tuesday, January 1, 2013

THOUGHTS on Steel's Edge (Book 4/4, Edge Series by Ilona Andrews)

Steel's Edge (The Edge, #4)Steel's Edge by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Steel's Edge is the fourth and final installment in Ilona Andrews' "Edge" series, and it's my second favourite of the series, after Bayou Moon (the second book). Although I liked the grittiness and twists of the plot in "Steel's Edge" better than the plot in "Bayou Moon," the romance and character development worked for me better in "Bayou's Moon." And since I've always read the "Edge" books with the expectations for a fantasy/romance, as opposed to an urban fantasy (like their excellent Kate Daniels Series), there were some issues with the romance and character development that I'd let slide for an urban fantasy, but couldn't quite get around for "Steel's Edge." But even with these issues, overall, I found "Steel's Edge" to be well-written and highly entertaining - I really liked it!

One of the reasons that I love books by Ilona Andrews is that they nearly always hit all four of my "funny, sad, gritty and grand criteria" for what makes a good book - i.e., there are always parts that are funny, parts that are sad, parts that are gritty and parts that are grand. As for the "funny," there are always funny parts in an Ilona Andrews book - I love what Jason, the crimelord of Kelena, offers Richard when he mistakenly thinks Richard has married Charlotte and that they'd bought a dog together, and I laughed out loud at the part where/how Jack informs Sophie and Charlotte that he is "adored" by his adoptive grandmother. And the "gritty" part is definitely achieved in "Steel's Edge." The hero, Richard Mar, is a vigilante whose aim seems to be to single-handedly wipe out the the illegal slave trafficking that operates in the Edge. And the heroine, Charlotte de Ney, is a healer who has grown disillusioned with parts of humanity that she begins using her healing gift to kill (albeit she is killing slavers). Any book whose main characters deal with slavery, human trafficking and disease is going to be fairly dark and gritty.Also, like the previous "Edge" books, there are gruesome maimings/deaths that are omfg!shocking (a good thing, imo), especially given romance-genre expectations. SPOILER
And the gruesome maimings/deaths are not not just of redshirts, but of characters who the reader has become attached to. **END SPOILER**
And these gritty events are interspersed with enough spectacular/grandiose parts - i.e., Richard doing some brilliant swordplay, or Charlotte implementing some impressive healing/antihealing, to satisfy my need for"grand" bits. And these gritty events are interspersed with enough spectacular/grandiose parts - i.e., Richard doing some brilliant swordplay, or Charlotte implementing some impressive healing/antihealing, to satisfy my need for "grand" bits.

There are also sad parts in the book. However, the most heart-wrenchingly emotional parts SPOILER
(i.e., Eleanore's death and the major plot twist regarding the captain of the slaving ship, omfg that part was amazing **END SPOILER**)
aren't associated with the hero/heroine, but with Jack and George, who the reader has been introduced to in the first Edge book "On The Edge." Now, like everyone else who reads this series, I've completely fallen in love with Jack and George, so these parts of "Steel's Edge" really tugged on my emotional heartstrings and even made me cry. But after reading these parts, I was left wondering whether I'd been tricked by some sort of sleight-of-hand. This is because when I'm reading a romance, I have the genre expectation (whether justified or not) that the deepest emotional arc should belong to the hero and/or heroine. And although there is a parallel drawn between George and Jack's situation on the one hand, and Richard and Kaldar's situation on the other hand, I didn't find this parallel developed much beyond a single mention. So in the end, while I was definitely getting the emotional highs and lows I want from a good book, I felt as if Jack and George's high-lows were given to reader in lieu of character development for Charlotte and Richard. And so I wasn't quite sure whether in the end, I really got to know Richard and Charlotte.

This in turn affected how well the romance worked for me. Although I could understand why Charlotte falls in love with Richard, I didn't quite buy how Richard falls in love with Charlotte (although I liked her well enough). I know that one reason Richard wants Charlotte is his conviction that Charlotte would "never become jaded or lose her resolve." He comes to this belief when he observes that she doesn't let go of her revulsion at injustice, even after all of the terrible things she (and Richard) sees in the slaver city. And although I do think Ilona Andrews did an excellent job coming up with travesties that would jade (or scar) most people, I didn't quite buy that Richard would take Charlotte's failure to become jaded after this experience as evidence evidence that Charlotte would NEVER become jaded or lose her resolve. This is because Richard himself is an example of someone who has been seeing these sorts of horrors for years, and doesn't seem to be someone who became (or considered himself) jaded after his first exposure to them.

There are also parts of the romance that I liked very much, however. In particular, I liked how most of Richard and Charlotte's interactions were so unfailingly cool and polite, despite the harrowing circumstances of their situations. While an average person would throw manners out the window in these sorts of circumstances, this is not so for Richard and Charlotte. Knowledge of, and adherence to the proper behaviour of nobility is where Richard and Charlotte excel, and their maintenance of courtly politeness to each other, even among plague, death and disfiguring, as well as Richard's dry attempts at levity in rather grave situations, really captured the "regency" part of the "regency in jeans" description that Ilona Andrews used to describe "Steel's Edge" on their author blog. Although I've read some reviews that disliked this aspect of their romance (I think they saw Richard and Charlotte's adherence to proper behaviour as relationship as indicative of a cold and passionless relationship), I read Richard and Charlotte's determination to maintain manners and proper behaviour in these crazy circumstances as a subtle competition between the two of them, and believable as the sort of interaction two people like Richard and Charlotte would engage in.

Now that I've more carefully thought about exactly why I had some issues with "Steel's Edge," it seems like the issues mostly arise becaues I have specific subgenre expectations, where "Steel's Edge" doesn't really fit into the relevant subgenre. Or actually even into any standard fantasy subgenre. So I don't think that going back and rereading "Steel's Edge" with UF, as opposed to romance, expectations would make me enjoy it more. For example, even if I considered the dismantling of the slavery-ring to be the main point of the book, and considered Richard and Charlotte's romance to be a side-plot (of which I have much less stringent expectations as compared to a main romance), I think I would still have issues with the fact that the main emotional arc of the story is associated with the side-characters, Jack and George, as opposed to the main characters, Richard and Charlotte. But maybe if I went into the book with only fantasy-genre expectations, and considered Jack, George, Richard, and Charlotte (and maybe Eleanore and Sophie) to all be "main characters" or the "main ensemble cast" or something, sort of like how I read the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series, "Steel's Edge" would work better for me. Although I'm not quite sure about this either! One thing that I love about Ilona Andrews books is their world-building (I already loved the aspects of the world built up from the previous books in the Edge series, and "Steel's Edge" gave me more of what I loved - I loved the description of the city, Kelena, in particular.) But one thing that throws me off-balance with the world-building in the Edge series is the way that the authors break standard fantasy genre conventions.


For instance, in "Bayou Moon," Cerise and William break the "You can't bring a dead person back to life" Rule.

And "Steel's Edge" seems to me to break the "When a character uses their powers for evil, what ensues is a long and bitter struggle between that character and temptations from the dark side" Rule for Charlotte.

And although I sort of like it when genre conventions of this sort are broken, I usually want there to be a reason WHY they're broken, or to see repercussions of this rule-breaking throughout the rest of the world-system. And I'm not sure (on my first read through the series) if these reason or repercussions were made clear to me as a reader.

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