Along the Razor's Edge - Book Review
by Rob J. Hayes
When it comes to first person point of view for me, it either falls entirely flat or is spectacular … and this book is … in the latter category. This book ROCKS. And not just because they were in a pit. In fact, speaking of pits, I pity the book that has to follow this one in my TBR because it’s awesome.
What’s it about?
No one escapes the Pit.
At just fifteen Eskara Helsene fought in the greatest war mankind has ever known. Fought and lost. There is only one place her enemies would send a Sourcerer as powerful as her, the Pit, a prison sunk so deep into the earth the sun is a distant memory. Now she finds herself stripped of her magic; a young girl surrounded by thieves, murderers, and worse. In order to survive she will need to find new allies, play the inmates against each other, and find a way out. Her enemies will soon find Eskara is not so easily broken.
This book is mind-blowingly good. It’s an adventure, a prison break, an escape from a haunted castle (kind of), an intricate fantasy with a fun magic system, and it’s all told like a memoir by a very morally gray protagonist you can’t help but love. What I really liked was how it’s all of these things, but it also takes the time to be a coming-of-age story, where we have a woman on the cusp of adulthood (she’s 15) learning not only about herself but sex and betrayal. Oftentimes heavy-action stories don’t take the time to focus on things that we would still care about if we were in that type of situation in real life - our emotions, our sex drives, and our interpersonal issues.
The story is intricately plotted, in that it’s a woman telling the story of her escape from prison years ago. At first, I wondered whether knowing in the first few pages that she does indeed get out would ruin the tension, but the way it unfolds and the trials Eska has to endure are in no way minimized by the point of view.
The pacing is great. While the storyline moves at a fast clip, it never felt rushed. What Eska endures in the pit is tough and often wince-inducing, but, at least for me, it never goes so far as to be disturbing. There's no sexual violence.
I loved Eska. I adore a firecracker of a young woman, especially one who has rage for days and a mouth of sass. I also really liked how she’s very fallible. She can’t fight at all (as she was trained in magic, not practical skills), and she’s a bit selfish and hard-headed. But she’s also 15. What I was really impressed with was how Hayes was able to give her a different voice as both narrator (of her own story, being an older woman) and as the 15-year-old. Young Eska’s choices, in whom she develops a crush on, for example, and how she reacts to things emotionally, make sense for a girl her age, and older Eska’s tone is less reproachful than “I was young and stupid.”
The other characters were great, either as foils for Eska, villains, or reluctant allies. I really liked Yorin (I love a tough guy man of few words), and while I could see through Isen in a heartbeat, it made sense how Eska felt about him, given, again her age. I also loved the inclusion of a very minor character called Ssekaris. Really Jealousy of Jalice vibes there. Josef is kept a bit at a distance, but this makes sense both in his personality and in the story itself.
The magic system is really fun. I don’t think it’s unique, as I recognize the ingesting of stones to produce magic from another fantasy novel - though I can’t tell you which - but it’s definitely not a common magic system and I loved how many restraints it held. I also really enjoyed the world-building, in how there are other races we don’t really see but hear about from other characters, and God-like or magical beings who live in what I presume are floating citadels. There’s an aspect of “ancient ruins” that I always enjoy too.
The book is addictive, with great prose that’s both snappy and descriptive, wonderful and intense action scenes, and great lines, like this:
“Oh, the over-confidence of youth, before the hammer and anvil of time and reality have beaten us into whatever shape society demands.”
“I don’t just burn bridges, I scorch their foundations and set the water on fire as well.”
A few points of criticism. There were some repetitive phrases, and the word “nor” wasn’t used properly. While there are some exceptions, generally nor is paired with neither, and it never was in this book. This is just my editor brain though. Most people wouldn’t even notice that. Other than that, honestly, a near-perfect book. I adored it. I couldn’t stop reading it.
I recommend it to people who love dark fantasy, coming of age stories, prison break stories, and anyone who was an angry teenager.