4.5 stars In the UF/PNR realm, I can’t think of a more reliable author team than Ilona Andrews. They consistently tell witty, exciting, and inventive stories that also manage to keep my crabby inner feminist satisfied by their refreshing lack of misogyny and even casual sexism. They manage this with their (seemingly, through it shouldn’t be) astonishing ability to create female protagonists and side characters who are complex, compelling, and above all, distinguishable from each other. Just like real people!
I am pretty sure I say something similar to the above every time I review one of their books, but I think it bears repeating. As someone who loves magic, fantasy, and the paranormal in her stories, but is so disillusioned by the bizarre genuflection to the dominance of alpha males — even by supposed alpha females — in the paranormal romance sector, genuine teamwork and respect between the strong men and women in Andrews’ books is a breath of fresh air.
Fate’s Edge is set in the world established in On the Edge and Bayou Moon: two parallel universes, one imbued with magic, called the Weird, and the other without magic like ours, called the Broken, overlap in a demi-magical region that runs approximately latitudinal across the US called the Edge. From the Edge, people can cross into either the Weird or the Broken if they have the right amount of magical power, and if not, you’ll pass across unawares of the other universe entirely. People in the Weird seem aware of the Edge and the Broken even if they can’t enter themselves, while people of the Broken don’t appear to have any idea of the existence of anything else; that dichotomy finally comes into play in Fate’s Edge, where baddies from the Weird are trying to obtain a device that would dim their magic sufficiently to cross into the Broken for, presumably, nefarious purposes, as the Broken folk would be pretty taken aback by their magical Weirdness. The acquiring of said device has been outsourced to the Edge family of our heroine, Audrey Callaghan, who has been raised as a con artist and grifter but has had it up to here with her family and wants nothing more to do with that life. She agrees, reluctantly, to one last job, under the agreement that her family will never contact her again, but she has no idea what the device is or who the client is, so she is utterly ignorant of the chain reaction the theft will set off.
Kaldar Mar, with whom we were introduced in the previous book, is also a champion con man and grifter, but his subterfuge is sanctioned by being an agent for an intelligence outfit based in the Weird called the Mirror. He is tasked with recovering the device that the Callaghans stole, so his path inevitably crosses Audrey’s. What results is a delightful caper story founded on their equally-matched capability and resulting teamwork: Audrey doesn’t actually have the device, she left it with her father and brother, so she has to steal it again, but in the process run up a bunch of smaller cons with Kaldar to get a bunch of underworld goons what they want so they can get her in position.
All of Andrews’ series, including those composed of ostensibly standalone books like this one, are jam-packed with different plot threads and worldbuilding details that lesser authors would confuse, retcon, or let dangle. Andrews’ stories are tight, consistent, and contribute overall to some of the best alternate universes in fantasy. In some ways, every book becomes more rewarding than the last, because the reader learns more and more about the world as those relevant details are included over the course of the new story. As an example, the basic background I gave above about the Weird, Edge, and Broken are thoroughly established in the first book. The second book dove more into tensions between countries in the Weird, with their corresponding black ops and spy agencies, and how those bleed into violence in the Edge. Here, we focus on a completely different geographical region in the Edge, start to postulate repercussions in the Broken, and further flesh out some of the sociopolitical standards in the Weird with concrete examples of how characters we met earlier in the Edge but are now citizens of the Weird are treated. These are all immersive details that are included organically in every story, that seem tangential but in fact are essential in establishing character motivations.
I was lucky enough that by the time I started reading Andrews, they had an extensive enough back catalog that it’s taken me considerable time to go through it. Every time I complete a new book of theirs, I am appreciative of how much it is worth the wait in between.