Review: Along the Razor’s Edge
So here I stand with another self-published fantasy novel at the completed end of my reading schedule, ready to write a review for you our reading public. What ho! you might say, “knowing” that we here at EBR would never deign to dip into the slush pile of self-publication by choice and thus thinking, perhaps, either us liars or yourselves the subject of a slip in the space-time continuum. But don’t worry your pretty little heads. There’s a part of me that is, as well, equally surprised to be bringing you my thoughts and feelings about such a book, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because more than anything else, I like to be pleasantly surprised. Only problem is that this read was anything but a pleasant surprise. Instead…
It was a bloody brilliant evolution of sheer story-telling genius.
And now I get to share that experience with you.
ALONG THE RAZOR’S EDGE (Amazon) is the first book in The War Eternal, written by a guy that you may already be aware of, if you follow the SPFBO run by Mark Lawrence. And if you aren’t, and you’re a fan of the fantasy genre, then you really need to check out the contest. Rob J. Hayes won SPFBO 3 (2017) with WHERE LOYALTIES LIE (Amazon), and is currently included in the list of finalists for SPFBO 5 (2019) with NEVER DIE (Amazon). Not to mention the fact that he’s been winning awards and other such accolades for these offerings and others. How, given all of this shining evidence, could I simply NOT look past the fact that he’s self-published and just read his books.
But that is not the question to be asking yourself right now. No, my friend, if you’re a fan of Dark Fantasy, the question you need to be asking yourself this very moment is:
WHY HAVEN’T YOU?
Eskara Helsene is a Sourcerer (Funny spelling? Heh-heh) for the Orrelan army. She’s 15, has been studying to use magic for the last 10 years, and has now been thrown at the advancing Terrelan hordes as a last-ditch effort to beat back their wicked tides. The story opens as she and her compatriots fail to do just that. She and the only other Sourcerer left with her, her best friend Josef, have their access to magic taken from them and are then thrown into The Pit: A Terrelan prison meant for those that are the most dangerous, dug deep into the ground. A mistake, you might say, to throw powerful magic-wielders into a prison and forget about them. If that alone had been the case, this book likely wouldn’t have been anywhere near half as gripping as it absolutely was.
The story is told as a first-person POV from a future point in time. Although, there is really only very little of the story during which we’re cognizant of that fact. Because it’s told in the first-person, Eskara’s personality comes bleeding through the prose at every turn. Her voice is strong and pointed and ready to carve you up into little pieces if you so much as look at her askance. Secondary characters are equally well-built. The strongest of those being Josef and the Terrelan brothers, Hardt and Isen, as they form a bond beneath their savage taskmaster, Prig.
Prig is one of the many overseers in their prison. He’s vicious and petty and anything but coddling of those that sit beneath both his ire and his whip. Prig drives his team endlessly to dig the tunnels of the pit deeper into the rock, filling their days with endless labor, torture, pain, and exhaustion. And there’s a hierarchy to the strata of the caves. Whether it be the Warden and his officers in the uppermost levels, the fighters amassing near the lowest, or the myriad teams of diggers spread throughout the dozens and dozens of levels between, they each have their place in social strata that is The Pit. And Eskara hates it. Hates the fact that she was only ever taught to wield her magic and nothing else. Without that access, she feels weak and alone and at the mercy of her condition. Thus it is to herself that she turns with constant mutterings, “I am the weapon.”
Dark fantasy done right. Meet Eskara Helsene as she attempts to survive and escape the bowels of the Pit. ALONG THE RAZORS EDGE is brilliant story well-told
The evolution of Eskara’s story, from her place in Prig’s team to… the powerful ending, is told in a series of layers. Each layer illuminating both what is to come and that which has passed. The magic, some of the history of the world, and the conflict between the two nations and thus the prisoners, all build upon each other and bring to light so much more than than the sum of their individual parts. When you hear people speak about the “iceberg concept”, where the 15% of the world that you include in the story implies and entrains the 85% that you don’t, this is the concept that they’re talking about. It lands somewhere between the balance of giving too much and giving not enough. It just that perfect amount that allows the reader to grasp it and then let their imagination take off and run with it. This story has it.
Alongside this is the constant drive that Eskara has to escape the pit and of those around her to use the girl’s abilities for their own purposes. If anything, this girl is her own worst enemy. She doesn’t know how to back down, how to play coy, or to take the heat and live to die another day. She’s three sheets to the wind, spit in Sightblinder’s eye, and the devil may care. She knows what she wants and she’s out to get it. The only question is, will she survive the dangers of The Pit long enough to get where she wants to go, and who all will stand there with her in the end.
This is Dark Fantasy done right. Regardless as to the reason why he’s self-publishing his books, if this is a prototypical example of what Hayes is going to be bringing to the table, then he absolutely belongs on bookstore shelves next to authors like Lawrence and Gemmell and Cook and Abercrombie. And the best part about becoming aware of him right now is that The War Eternal is already done, and he’s releasing them on a rapid-fire schedule. This one in a few days, book 2 at the end of April (already have my eARC), and book 3 shortly thereafter. If you’re a fan of dark fantasy, put this book at the top of your purchasing/reading/gushing-about list. It is SO good.
I simply can’t wait to see what Rob J. Hayes comes out with next.
No pressure. 😉
- Recommended Age: 18+, for everything
- Language: Frequent and strong, but not more than other stories in this genre
- Violence: Lots of violence; icky, sticky messy stuff
- Sex: A quick scene, threat of rape, and infrequent dialogue