Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Not What You're Expecting

So, I've had JR Ward's latest in my hot little hands for 24 hours now, so naturally you're expecting a review of... Ilona Andrews?

Yeah, I wasn't expecting that either. I needed something to read yesterday morning and lunch, before my scheduled stop at Borders, so I picked up On the Edge, fully expecting to have to take a hiatus while I gobbled down Covet.

But when it came right down to the moment, sitting on the sofa with a nice hot adult beverage, rain pattering on the roof, the children in bed and offering only token resistance... I had to choose. And I just couldn't put it down.

Not even knowing that I'd be back to it in a day or two. Not even for JR Ward, an author who has ratcheted up my obsession-o-meter to higher levels than I thought possible.

I had to know what happened to Rose and Declan. The angel (?) would have to wait.

The Short Answer:
Totally loved it, go buy and read it. Caution: you might want to choose a day when getting up the next morning is optional, cuz there's a good chance you're going to want to read it straight through.

The Hook
Andrews -- actually, the author is a team, but for simplicity's sake I'm going to refer to them by their pen name-- does a fan-freakin'-tastic job of setting up the world. Within 3 pages, we have a zombie, a child shape-shifter, and an exasperated heroine who keeps the zombie in line with a crossbow and chains. There's a comical adventure feel to the opening scene, culminating in a wisecrack about guns, trucks, and Walmart -- but it's grounded by the very unfunny poverty the family lives in.

In THREE PAGES.

And it doesn't let up from there. The parallel worlds premise is completely engaging and gives the authors enough latitude for lots of fantasy elements-- this story is very much a fairy tale, with a knight, a Cinderella heroine, a juuuuuuuuuust barely defeatable villain of unquestionable evil; assistance from unexpected corners, and a vibrant cast of secondary characters. Plus guns, trucks, and Walmart. And one of those comic book guys.

The light-hearted style, entertaining wisecracking and sparkling romantic tension are consistently balanced by the nastiness of the foe and the gritty circumstances of Rose's backstory, which I think is what made it so readable for me.

Here's an example of what I mean. As the set up, you just need to know that Declan is literally from a whole different world, where he is a very wealthy nobleman in a society that seems roughly medieval (though with better hygiene through the miracle of modern magic). And Rose has good reason to be suspicious of him and his social class. Oh, and "The Broken" is the characters' term for regular old earth, where we Muggles live.

Rose tried the pancakes. They were predictably cold, but still delicious, and she was ravenous. "God, these are good."

"Slowly."

Rose raised her gaze from her plate.

He sat very straight at the table, cutting the pancake with surgical precision.

"Eat slowly," the blueblood said. "Don't cut your food with the fork. Cut it with the knife, and make the pieces small enough so you can answer a question without having to swallow first."

*Why me?* "Right. Any other tips?"

The sarcasm whistled right over his head. "Yes. Look at me and not at your plate. If you have to look at your plate, glance at it occasionally."

Rose put down her fork. "Lord Submarine..."

"Camarine."

"Whatever."

"You can call me Declan." He said as if granting her knighthood. The nerve.

"Declan, then. How did you spend your day?"

He frowned.

"It's a simple question: How did you spend your day? What did you do prior to the fight and pancake making?"

"I rested from my journey," he said with a sudden regal air.

"You took a nap."

"Possibly."

"I spent my day scrubbing, vacuuming, and dusting in the Broken. I got there at seven-thirty in the morning and left at six. My back hurts, I can still smell bleach on my fingers, and my feet feel as flat as these pancakes. Tomorrow, I have to go back to work, and I want to eat my food in peace and quiet. I have good table manners. They may not be good enough for you, but they are definitely good enough for the Edge, and they are the height of social graces for this house. So please keep your critique to yourself."


Can I get a YOU GO!! ? The punch line there is awesomeness itself, but that scene tells you almost everything you need to know about the conflict between the two of them. It also covers the stylistic balance of funny with a little gut-wrenching darkness thrown in.

Yum, Alpha
Andrews writes an alpha hero like nobody's business. Awhile back I did a little nosing around on the topic of alpha behavior. One of them, can't remember which, made a point that alphas "take up space." They expect other people to accommodate *them,* and Andrews makes this particular point in a number of ways-- here's one example:
He held himself like a man who never rode in a crowded bus. His shoulders were too wide, his posture too forceful, and if he were to step into one of the busy malls of the Broken, people would probably trip over themselves to give him his space.

Yeah. Very alpha.

The Romance
On The Edge is definitely more of a romance than the Kate Daniels books, and I expect additional books in the series to be about different characters, not ongoing adventures for Rose and Declan. There's an obvious candidate for the next hero coughcoughWilliamcough but after that who knows. (I'm totally assuming here, as I don't particularly follow Ilona Andrews news). I liked the characters very much and thought the romance resolved well. If I had to nitpick, I'd say the "OMG, I'm in love!" realization seemed a little out of the blue to me on both sides. But not a major problem.

In no way does this story resemble an Old Skool romance, with its ultra-hip mashup of style and genres and the heroine who nearly electrocutes her would-be rapist/seducer... and yet if one of the main qualifiers of Old Skoolery is a coming-of-age transformation of the heroine, we do see that here. Rose's powers make her a victim and a target; her status in the Edge--literally, between worlds-- is dictated by the uncanny strength of her magic. Not coincidentally, the pivotal magical incident takes place at a graduation ceremony-- from child to adult-- and places her in a specific danger that is tightly knotted with her sexuality.

The role that her power plays in the romantic relationship is not what it first appears. I love that her hero teaches her more about how to use it, and facilitates her transformation into a person who can fully realize that power. And because it's a romance and not some other kind of story, the reflected message in the romance is that Rose realizes her full feminine power too.


Around the Web:
Book Love Affair
Angieville
Bibleeohfile
Lurve a la Mode
Smexy Books
Literary Escapism
Nancy Holzner
Stacy's Place
As always, if you have reviewed this book on your blog, feel free to leave a link in comments!

13 comments:

Jill Sorenson said...

This books sounds really great! I've had my eye on it. Thanks.

Mandi said...

Such an awesome book. I rec it to everyone!!!!


Covet not so much..a whole lot of blah. :(

Nicola O. said...

OH NOEZ! I'm avoiding Covet reviews for the moment.

meljean brook said...

I'm a friend of Ilona's, so obviously I have some bias ... but I think she's one of the best UF/PNR authors out there. Her worldbuilding is SO strong, her writing is so tight, and her characters are so grounded -- even the ultra-powerful shifters and the nobles, like Declan -- but even more than that, her writing has gotten better and stronger with each book.

It's just amazing to me to see a writer like this. And I'll admit to taking notes as I go -- she's one of those writers that I'll read because I can't put the story down, but then go back later and take notes. She's just THAT GOOD at what she does.

I'd hate her if I didn't love her so much.

KMont said...

This is one is strongly vying for my best read of 2009. And I couldn't agree more with what Meljean says.

Nicola O. said...

I did read "Magic Bites," and I liked it, but I didn't find it as compelling. It's probably the romance in this one that makes it more appealing to me.

Ilona said...

Thank you for a very kind review!

What Meljean neglected to mention is that she critiqued the book and the smexy parts especially. My typical smexy scenes go like this: they grab each other and have nookie, yay!

She pretty much saved the book.

P.S. I have alpha heroes too, kind of, except mine are named Alpha Mens.
http://www.ilona-andrews.com/2009/03/06/opening-chapter-of-alpha-menz/

It's a little bit scary.

Jessica said...

This sounds SO great. I am going to Kindle it right now, if possible.

And I cannot believe it took you away form Covet (I have heard that one is pretty good).

And the "token resistance" comment ... LOL!

meljean brook said...

"I did read "Magic Bites," and I liked it, but I didn't find it as compelling. It's probably the romance in this one that makes it more appealing to me."

Again, bias -- but this was how I felt about the first book in the Kate Daniels series, too. I liked it, but it didn't quite tip over the edge to love, love until the second and third books. The primary reason is simply that Kate's character grows, and her connections to the people around her really start to expand and deepen (and then there's the romantic thread, which -- though it still hasn't fully developed and taken over the story) is increasingly compelling.

And don't listen to her about the smexy parts. She had them well in hand by the time I put my eyeballs to the page :-D

meljean brook said...

God, that parenthesis placement doesn't make any sense at all. I think I need to go to bed.

Christine E. said...

Must read this one soonest. I've got a few audiobooks and Kindle (for iPhone) books going, but I like to have a physical book in hand too, and this sounds like a good candidate for my next purchase. I though it would be "Covet" but the sound of this one grabs me more.

Which makes me realize that I'm apparently not quite as into J.R. Ward as I once was, as I've had the latest Black Dagger Brotherhood book on Kindle for weeks (months?) now and still haven't finished it. Don't get me wrong -- I enjoy it while I'm reading it, but it's definitely been put-downable.

Nicola O. said...

Ilona, hey, thank you for stopping by, and you're more than welcome for the review (it's what I do!). And is there anything more on that Menz story? (very scary!)

Meljean, I sure can't speak to how easily things flow for one author relative to another, but I think the world-building is equally fun and imaginative between the two of you. Yours is maybe a bit darker and the Guardian books are a bit denser.

Jessica & Christine, I KNOW!! and yet here I am. I'm maybe 100 pages into the JR Ward and I think the new series might have freshened things up a bit, though I don't know if I'm totally sold on the premise. I do think it's better so far than the last two BDB books.

Kmont, I never do "best of the year" lists because it's too hard to decide! but yeah, I wouldn't disagree with ya.

Heloise said...

This one sounds right up my alley, thanks Nicola. I had been meaning to read some Andrews soon as it was.

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