EDGE by Thomas Blackthorne
Angry Robot, 2010, 412 pages, 978-0-85766-040-4, Mass Market Paperback, $7.99
I picked up this novel one day at random, and there are two reasons why: I loved the cover, as the text is very creative and it reminded me of the cover for John Scalzi’s Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, and because, based on the blurb, the plot sounded like something not too far outside the realm of Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale.
What I anticipated was a survivalist story—something personal and intense with a plethora of physical dangers and a lot of emotional and mental disarray. I suppose that Edge does, indeed, have these qualities, but they didn’t come in the form I had anticipated.
There is a description of this book on Amazon, but half of it has nothing to do with the main point of the story (which is where the false expectations come in). The last line of the description, however, sums it up pretty nicely:
“When a young boy with hoplophobia (the fear of weaponry) runs away from home, his father hires ex-Special Forces agent Josh Cumberland to find him. With the help of the boy’s psychiatrist, Cumberland delves into the dark underbelly of the knife culture that has infected his country, but what he finds will shock him to his soul.”
Just to clarify, “his country” is Britain, the boy’s psychiatrist is Suzanne Duchesne, and as for the shock to his soul, well, if you can be shocked by the actions of politicians and corporations in any time period, then I’m shocked, too.
Instead of waffling on for ages (which I’ve been doing in this review for weeks now), I’m going to get straight to the point: this book didn’t work for me as a reading experience. There are a few reasons for that, but before I talk about them I want to point out that there are two things about this book that, despite whatever issues I may have with it, should be considered things that I did like.
First is the narrative writing. Thomas Blackthorne (which, for those interested, is a pseudonym for SF writer John Meaney) constructs a mean description, that’s for sure, and he has creative ways of getting you into the scene. The first two paragraphs of Edge are still my favorites in terms of lovely writing, and I have no qualm with Blackthorne’s skill with words. The second thing that I liked about this novel was the international situation. The world is on the verge of–if it’s not already in–dystopia. We only learn a little about the larger political sphere in this particular volume of the series (of which the upcoming Point is the second book), but from what I can tell, both Britain and the United States are deteriorating in their own way. Throughout the story there are news reports of what’s happening overseas, and if that isn’t enough to convince you that things are going downhill, the tail end of the book certainly will.
But just to be clear, while I find dystopian scenarios very intriguing in fiction, I don’t find them at all interesting in real life. I would like to pick the door with peace and happiness for the entire world, please. . . .
As for my issues with the book, the first is the character focus. Early on I came under the impression that Richard would feature as a major character. While we do get his point-of-view now and again, and though he does serve as a reason to start an investigation, the story is really about Josh Cumberland. The problem is, I didn’t find Josh as interesting. Richard’s problems I can understand. Josh’s, on the other hand, were more difficult for me to sympathize with. I can see where the reader is supposed to feel sorry for him, as his daughter is hospitalized and in a vegetative state, but his constant obsessing over her was a distraction more than something that made me feel sympathetic. On the other hand, his daughter’s loss is one way in which he taps into the pent-up rage that makes him so potentially dangerous, and which also becomes a key element of his personality. In that way, her constant presence in his thoughts is essential.
I also had a problem relating to Suzanne’s character, though she was certainly intriguing. Where Josh has the physical prowess and the knowledge of weapons and infiltration, Suzanne falls somewhere between the brains of the operation and the magician. She’s highly intelligent and able to absorb information or situations in no time at all. Her hypnosis skills, meanwhile, make her able to manipulate what others are thinking and feeling in a way that’s positively eerie. At times it’s difficult to tell whether or not she’s using her abilities on someone–a problem which the characters find themselves facing in the novel as well. In fact, I would have thought that it might be a more problematic issue–is she touching him because she’s being friendly or because she’s implanting a subconscious gesture?–but for the most part the people around her let it go unmentioned.
Josh and Suzanne are certainly a complementary pair, and they work well together, but my interest was not in them. I much preferred reading about Richard as he maneuvered in his new street life. The people he met along the way were colorful and different, which I enjoyed, but we didn’t get to see them as often as I might have liked.
Part of my disconnect with Josh and Suzanne may have been due to the technical aspects of the novel. This story is extremely detailed—possibly too detailed at times. I often found myself trudging through scenes that would have otherwise interested me had the author not gone on at length about the specifics of the technology or Josh’s physical regime. There were even times when the details made a scene incomprehensible; I remember one in chapter sixteen, in particular, that I simply didn’t understand. This was problematic considering that the scene was supposed to be clarifying one of the major points of the story. All I really got from it was that corporations are evil.
At the same time, I do appreciate that the novel was so well researched. Blackthorne even lists many of his references and sources in the acknowledgements at the end. That he did so much research is incredible, and I’m quite intrigued by some of the information he included for readers to check out on their own. Other writers would do as well to take up his example. Nevertheless, I feel that the sheer volume of minute detail served to slow things down at times. Research is excellent, but it doesn’t all have to be included.
Now, here is where I take what I just said and say BUT. . . . If this story were turned into some kind of television mini-series, I think it would be incredible. The research that went into the novel would make a great foundation for a medium with a visual aspect. This is doubly true of the action scenes in the story. Should they play out on screen the way they played out in the novel (and nothing was particularly beyond the realm of reality), it would be wonderful to watch. Moreover, I’m an even bigger fan of dystopian stories in films than I am of those in books. The setting and characters of Edge would make for a delightfully dark and gritty on-screen action-drama.
And there you have it. While not my best reading experience, I think Edge would make a blazingly good viewing one. Someone should really look into that.