Let’s talk about the Edge, Andrews’ secret, magical, and weird border between a United States that resembles this world’s one (referred to as “the Broken,” where magic doesn’t work), and “the Weird,” a world where magic is real, where different kingdoms contend over a similarly-shaped continent. The Andrews writing duo has set four loosely-linked novels within this context, all with a romance focus. Of them all, Steel’s Edge is the first which I actively enjoyed, because it breaks the pattern of “romantic” relationships established in the Edge continuity to date.
Those of you who know me may realise I’m not really that moved by romance (of the heterosexual variety, at least: homosexual has the novelty of both rarity and a transgression of the dominant paradigm, which makes it interesting in different ways), and especially not by romance wherein the male love interest is characterised as by far the more interested in having a relationship: where his conviction that he deserves attention and/or love is too easily read as insufferable arrogance, or his conviction that he won’t get love presses hard upon the borders of insufferable angst. The preceding Edge novels followed this pattern: Steel’s Edge breaks it, in large part by giving its main characters good reason for arrogance—with regard to their magic powers—and good reason for personality clashes in the course of achieving their joint goal.
Charlotte de Ney is a healer from the Weird, perhaps the best healer of her generation. When her childless marriage collapses, she begins to fear the darker side of her power. If she indulges the power to cause harm, she may become a walking plaguebringer, a deadly abomination. So she moves to the Edge, where her magic is weaker, and creates a new life for herself.
Richard Mar is a badass swordsman, with a large and violently-skilled family. He’s on an undercover quest to eradicate the slave-traders trafficking humans in the Weird, because of vengeance! When he blows his cover and ends up bloody and three-quarters-dead on Charlotte’s doorstep, with his enemies at his heels, she finds herself drawn into his quest thanks to the tragedy he’s brought to her door. With Richard’s sword, and Charlotte’s magic, they cut a swathe through slavers and their minions, working their bloody way to discover who’s making it possible for slavery—which is illegal, even in the Weird—to be such big business. Along the way, they pick up assistance in the form of youthful changeling Jack and his brother George, a necromancer, both of whom will be familiar to readers of previous Edge books, and who come face-to-face with their long-absent father while he’s working for the slavers.
It turns out the head of the slavers’ operations is a very highly placed nobleman. It falls to Richard and Charlotte to engineer his undoing, at the same diplomatic engagement which the traditional enemy of Richard’s Weird nation has chosen to unleash a monstrous attack. Both our protagonists end up tested to their limits, but in the end, they achieve the traditional happy ending.
On consideration, this is a rather odd book in terms of structure, and hectically paced. The world-building doesn’t reward logical consideration, and if you were not familiar with some of the bit-part players from previous novels, you might question their inclusion. But Richard and Charlotte are two of the most interesting, well-rounded and human characters yet to emerge within the Edge series, and, combined, the adventure-sensibilities of the plot and the interplay between our protagonists is sufficient to carry Steel’s Edge to, if not a surprising conclusion, at least a successful one. I recommend it to fans of the series—and I don’t discommend it to everyone else.