Review: On the Edge by Ilona Andrews

In order to write this review, I am going to have to make an embarrassing confession. When I was in college, I went through a paranormal romance novel phase. Many of these books involved either sexy demon hunters who needed women to help them break their curses, or time travel and brooding Scottish lairds (which I think explains my inability to take Outlander as seriously as Diana Gabaldon clearly wanted me to take it).

Eventually, I grew out of the genre — not because I decided paranormal romances were bad or dumb, but because of the lack of surprise. A romance novel can, by definition, really only have one ending: Guy and Gal profess undying love. I started to crave books where I didn’t know how things would turn out, and where everything didn’t hinge on two good-looking people falling into bed together.

All of this brings me to On the Edge, a paranormal romance written by the Ilona Andrews team. I didn’t quite realize the book’s genre when I checked it out (one nice bonus of Kindle checkout: I generally don’t prejudice myself or spoil plot developments by looking at covers), and I’m glad I didn’t because I probably wouldn’t have picked it up.

On the Edge is, without question, the best paranormal romance I’ve ever read. I devoured this book in a day and a half because I literally couldn’t put it down — at one point I was stirring dinner with one hand and holding my Kindle with the other, anxious to find out what would happen next.

But I have a really unfair criticism of it. I wish it wasn’t a paranormal romance.

On the Edge tells the story of Rose, an impoverished twenty-something desperately trying to provide for her two younger brothers, Jack and Georgie. Rose lives in an area called the Edge, a sliver of reality sandwiched between the Weird, a realm of magic and dukes and monsters and other high fantasy things, and the Broken, where magic can’t exist. Most Edgers have just enough magic to be uncomfortable living in the Broken, but not enough to live permanently in the Weird.

Rose is an exception, an Edger with enough magical power to interest even the noble families of the Weird. When her talent presented itself Rose became the object of some unpleasant attention; various men tried to kidnap her or trick her into marriage or mistresshood, hoping she would bear them children with similar abilities. Rose thinks she’s finally gotten rid of the most aggressive of the suitors — until Declan, a noble from the Weird, shows up at her doorstep. In order to keep her family safe, Rose is forced to strike a bargain with the powerful Earl: she will give him three tasks, and if he completes them, she will have to become his wife.

At this point I seriously considered not reading the rest of the book. I cannot tell you how much I hate the romance novel trope of “man assumes woman is chattel, woman teaches him she’s actually a human being too, then they totally fall in love.” No. If I’m going to root for a cool heroine like Rose to fall for someone, it has to be someone who already knows women are people.

I kept reading for three reasons. First, I liked Rose and wanted to see what happened to her and her brothers. Second, there were just enough rough edges around Declan’s story to make me suspect that something more was going on with him. And third, Ilona Andrews books are just so much fun to read — every time Declan’s entitled jerkhood ratcheted up my blood pressure, I’d immediately be sucked back in when a crisis hit Rose and her community on the next page.

Having now finished the book, I can say that it’s exciting and lively and won’t make you feel like you have to turn in your feminism card. But as I read further into the novel, I found myself wishing that On the Edge wasn’t limited by the conventions of its genre. The world Ilona Andrews created in this book is so cool and imaginative and alive with possibilities for its characters — and yet I already knew how the book was going to end.

It looks like all four of the Edge books are of the boy-meets-girl variety, which I have to admit disappointed me. Much as I enjoyed On the Edge, part of me wishes they’d used this world for weirder and wilder stories. I’m not sure that’s a fair criticism, however. On the Edge does what it sets out to do, and does it very well. If you like paranormal romance I suspect you’ll love this book.

Rating: Library Loan


5 comments on “Review: On the Edge by Ilona Andrews

  1. Shoot. I agree. I didn’t feel like I lost my feminism card reading this (and the three? that follow), but rather my writing card. The dude’s eyes are sapphire. That’s when she lost me. Rose (as well as the writing) becomes so much less interesting when she falls in love with Dude. This is my standard complaint. I guess it’s a writing problem as well as a feminism problem. But it’s worth reading, maybe even buying full-price paperback on a bad day. These sorts of books frustrate me because I also want them to be so much better.

    But you should also read “The Grendel Affair,” one of the few urban fantasy novels I’ve read recently that did NOT send me right over the edge.

    • Has “you should definitely compare your protagonist’s eyes to rare jewels or metals” been Worst Muse writing advice? If not, it should be. Seriously, why does everyone have sapphire or emerald or amethyst (gag) eyes in these books?!

      I feel like books that had the potential to be much more interesting than they were are the most frustrating to read. I agree with you completely about the writing and the plot getting less interesting after they Fall In Love – at that point is there any way they won’t kill the bad guy and live happily ever after? No, there is not, so the plot is basically on autopilot.

      I am definitely going to check out “The Grendel Affair!”

      • If it isn’t a Worst Muse it should be!

        And, yes. It’s clear that the writer(s) have talent and interesting ideas; I would like to see them try something less formulaic!

        Let me know what you think!

  2. I was just complaining with my little sister yesterday about romance novel tropes we hate. And YES, the woman having to teach the man that she’s not chattel was one of ours. (We also complained for like twenty minutes about that deeply weird romance novel thing where the man grunts/sighs/thinks “MINE” while he’s fucking the girl. Why does that happen and can it please please stop?)

    • Ugh, I hate that too! (And, fair warning: Book 2 of the Edge series, which I just finished, has a fair amount of that “U R mine woman now” stuff. Blech.)

      OK, other romance novel tropes I hate: widows who are still virgins. Assumptions of unfaithfulness when the couple’s enemies are clearly setting them up. And, my personal top pet peeve, men who deliberately needle and insult their female partners because they think “it’s cute when she’s angry.” Right, because treating your lover like a wind-up toy and upsetting her for your own amusement is suuuuuper-sexy.

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