Ilona Andrews: On the Edge / Bayou Moon

Welcome to the Edge. It’s a no-man’s land stretching across the United States, created by the overlap between two alternate dimensions. On one side, you have the Broken, a world of science and reason, otherwise known as the mundane world we live in. On the other, the Weird, where history took a different course, leading to places like Adrianglia and the Dukedom of Louisiana, where magic-wielding bluebloods rule and intrigue is rife. The Edge is where you go if you’ve been exiled from the Weird, or have too much magic to exist safely in the Broken. It’s full of smugglers and hermits, feuding clans and loners, the desperate and the devious.

In On the Edge, we’re introduced to Rose Drayton, who works her butt off at an under-the-table cleaning job in order to provide for her two younger brothers, the changeling Jack and the necromancer Georgie. She’s tired, stressed, and none too pleased when a blueblood from the Weird shows up to claim her as his own. He wants to add the strength of her magic (her “flash”) to his family’s gene pool, and Rose is anything but willing to go along with this. Reluctantly, she makes a deal with Lord Declan Camarine: if he passes three tasks of her choosing, she’ll go with him. She has no intentions of making it easy. But even as Declan slowly charms his way into her life and her heart, strange things are afoot in their area of the Edge. A renegade noble is building an army of magical creatures, and Declan must stop him at any cost, before disaster strikes. But what is Declan’s true agenda, and how does Rose fit into it? And who is the well-spoken William, and what’s he doing lurking around the area also?

Bayou Moon picks up two years later. After the events of the first book, William chose to remain in the Edge, alone with his memories and regrets, far from his few friends. Unfortunately, his time alone has just come to an end. The Mirror, Adrianglia’s secret intelligence organization, recruits William to journey further into the Edge, in search of Spider, a vicious agent working for the Dukedom of Louisiana’s own spy agency, the Hand. There’s precedent: William is a changeling, capable of turning into a wolf, and Spider delights in killing changelings. It’s almost personal.

As William enters the region known as the Mire, he encounters the stubborn, feisty, independent Cerise Mar. She’s currently acting as head of her sprawling clan, since her parents have gone missing thanks to a rival family’s devious actions. Now Cerise and William must work together in order to stop Spider’s attempts to regain an artifact of terrifying power before the balance of power for the region is disrupted. Whatever happens, it’ll be messy.

With these two books, Andrews draws us into the strange world of the Edge, which is ripe with potential. I’d tried reading On The Edge some time back, and for whatever reason I couldn’t get into it. I tried again, and this time slogged through it without too much difficulty. I like the characters, and the way Rose and Declan interact, but there was just something vaguely tedious about the story and execution. Perfectly serviceable, but it could have been a lot stronger. Despite the Ace fantasy label, it’s obvious that Andrews is actually going for a paranormal romance feel here. All the pieces are in place, and it’s just a question of moving them around until things happen and everyone can admit their love and live semi-happily ever after.

Bayou Moon makes it clear that Andrews is utilizing a common romance trick: introduce a few extra characters in each book, so subsequent installments can focus on someone new. In this case, William gets his time in the sun and his chance to shine and find someone worthy of his devotion and affections. I’ll confess: I really enjoyed the playful back and forth Cerise had with William, even if I could see the resolution coming a mile away. They worked well together, with growing chemistry and mutual admiration being established as they survived their various troubles and travails. The extended Mar family, filled to the brim with oddballs and eccentrics, helped to flesh things out, making for some entertaining and revealing moments… and sadly, some cannon fodder when the bad guys inevitable showed up to ruin things.

I liked Bayou Moon much more than On The Edge. I started to get a much better feel for the multiple worlds and conflicting nations, and I thought the characters worked well together. Throw in some nice action scenes, and you once again have a perfectly competent, solidly-told, paranormal romance pretending to be urban fantasy. I still think that this is a concept filled with potential, and I’ll be watching to see what Andrews does next.

(Ace, 2009 and 2010)

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