Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Fate's Edge" by Ilona Andrews-- Fun, but Contrived

     I've been a fan of Ilona Andrews ever since I read On the Edge, the first book in "The Edge" series. Despite my sometimes finicky attitude toward paranormal fiction I like the genre when it's inventive and well written and I was really looking forward to Fate's Edge. But, like too many of my favorite urban fiction favorites, I fear the series is starting to buckle under the weight of too many contrivances.

     Audrey Callahan is a former thief with the magical ability to open locks-- an ability and a life she is trying hard to leave in the past. But when her father begs her to do "one last job" while wielding the all-powerful weapon of familial guilt as leverage, Audrey agrees to a heist that ultimately brings her to the attention of some very dangerous people.
     Kaldar Mar is a rogue, gambler and thief who has turned his less-than-legal talents to use as a spy. After Kaldar is assigned to track down the items stolen by Audrey he soon discovers that in the wrong hands they could be a powerful weapon, and the only way to get them back is to track down the thief who stole them in the first place.
     As in all books set in the world of "The Edge" Kaldar will have to travel between the magical realm known as The Weird, the non-magical world known as The Broken as well as the in-between world of The Edge where magic is unreliable at best. Only this time Kaldar has the unexpected complication of some uninvited guests...

     Kids and pets-- the old cliche in movie making is to avoid kids and pets. Maybe that should be the new caveat in writing fiction as well. I'm as likely as anyone to be charmed by precocious kids and anthropomorphic animals-- who wouldn't be after growing up on Disney films? But these tropes that can quickly become overused; especially if a book features more than one. "Fate's Edge" has new adult leads but brings back the youngsters featured in "On the Edge." This time around George, a young necromancer, and Jack, a young lynx changeling, stowaway on Kaldar's transportation as he leaves on his mission to find the stolen items. Naturally, they are prompted to leave home due to misunderstanding that has Jack convinced he'll be sent off to a particularly bleak military school and the kids go through the requisite growing-up experiences on their adventures-- including the rescue of a mistreated cat. And just in case one abused animal wasn't enough, Audrey also has an uncommonly loyal raccoon that follows her around after also being rescued in infancy. None of the story-lines become too cute but there is a small feeling that the book was somewhat written by rote with all the guaranteed ingredients thrown in to ensure its likability.
     And one has to look no further than the main characters to see more personalities that fit into cookie-cutter roles as well. Kaldar, as a former thief and notorious womanizer, is a leading man we've seen many times: the perfect fantasy for women who dream of being able to tame the bad boy.  Audrey is the woman we'd all like to envision ourselves as being: perfectly gorgeous and always ready with the quick comeback. Neither character is poorly written and they have a believable chemistry. The dialog is brisk and clever and it's a book you'll enjoy reading even if it feels slightly predictable.
     I hate to offer a negative review of an author (or team of authors in this case) that I really like, but if I'm impressed by an author at one point I am also someone who expects a certain level of quality in subsequent books. "Fate's Edge" has a certain style to it that should appeal to fans of Andrews' books but I was left feeling that this one was a half-hearted attempt. Not only were the characters somewhat stereotypical, but the plot didn't always flow from a logical progression and had a cut-and-paste feel to it. Characters that are known from previous books and built upon the foundation of familial loyalty are quick to abandon the main characters with the flimsiest of reasons and it's obvious it's only done to push the story to its climactic confrontation-- but it ultimately left me feeling disgruntled at the incongruity.
     I also felt that the setting, which was key in making the earlier books in the series special, was lacking in this installment. Whether the story existed in The Edge, with its tough, poverty-hardened characters, or The Weird, with its unpredictable magic, I was always interested to see what new creatures would show up next. But a lot of "Fate's Edge" takes place in The Broken and when the setting does venture into The Edge it's usually only as a device to allow the characters to use their magic with very little of the atmosphere that made the first two books so intriguing. There is a small segment that is set in The Weird but it's confined to a fairly mundane circumstance and nothing new about The Weird is revealed. Essentially the story could have taken place in any random magical setting.

     Ultimately it seems as if "The Edge" series is prioritizing itself as romance oriented as each book is geared toward creating another idealized couple-- and there's nothing wrong with that. The series is fun to read and perfect if you're looking for some light fiction to pass the time. But "Fate's Edge" didn't quite have the oomph or originality that drew me to the series in the first place. I'll certainly come back for the next installment; I'll just hope for a return to the old formula in the future.

3 out of 5 stars.


Michael Offutt, Expert Critic said...

A fair review as always. I do like the cover.

SQT said...

Thanks Michael-- I do try for fair.