Just in case you're not keeping track, this is the second book George R. R. Martin forced me to read for the Dallas Cowboys' loss to the New York Giants during thee NFL playoffs last January. Although I still resent him bitterly for winning that football wager, I must concede that GRRM selected some fine novels for me to read and review.
My only exposure to Melinda Snodgrass' work was with the latest Wild Cards book, so I had no true expectations going in. Needless to say, The Edge of Reason took me by complete surprise. So much so that it's currently the frontrunner for my 2008 Unexpected Surprise Award. Yes, it's that good!
Since time immemorial, a war has been fought between the Old Ones, the forces of magic and religious fanaticism, and the Lumina, an order dedicated to the liberation of the human spirit supporting the cause of reason, understanding, and technology. Richard Oort, an untried cop in the Albuquerque Police Department, is thrust into that eternal conflict when he rescues a girl from inhuman hunters. To his dismay, he discovers that the mysterious teenager, Rhiana, is a sorceress. In the span of a few hours, his faith in God and everything he believes in will be shaken to the core of their fundations. Recruited by the Lumina, Richard's life will take a turn for the worst when the Old Ones and their mortal pawns attempt to either destroy him or subvert him to their cause.
If you are a jaded reader who has seen it all and can't stand yet another "provocative" thriller putting in question the roots of religion and which explores the existence and influence of secret societies, then The Edge of Reason might just be what the doctor ordered. Sure, there are countless works of fiction dealing with the struggle between science and superstition, understanding vs religion, but Melinda Snodgrass used these old ingredients to create a new recipe. The result is a compelling mix of supernatural thriller and historical fantasy that's fresh, smart, fun, insightful, and entertaining.
Though it's a speculative fiction work, the author paced this one like a thriller. Hence, expect relatively short chapters which will keep you turning those pages, eager to find out what happens next.
In the end, it's the characterization which makes this book so special. À la Robin Hobb and Katherine Kurtz, Melinda Snodgrass possesses a subtle human touch which allows the characters to truly come alive. Richard, at first glance a simple cop with a past he's trying to forget, turns out to be a complex and well-drawn character. The same can be said regarding the supporting cast, though to a different degree depending on how much "air time" each character gets. Cross, the homeless god with multiple personalities, is both the comic relief and insightful fellow.
Unlike many of those thrillers that seem to aim to stir up controversy, it appears that Snodgrass was striving to create a well-balanced ensemble of provocative ideas and concepts, fast-paced prose, and deft characterization. All of which makes The Edge of Reason an intelligent yet accessible read. Frankly, I'm a bit surprised to see it labelled as "fantasy," for it could easily transcend the genre if marketed appropriately.
Though the book is pretty much self-contained, it remains the opening chaper for a vaster tale. Snodgrass leaves the door open for sequels, so let's hope that she writes a bit faster than her good friend GRRM. . .
Even if its primary aim is not to be controversial just for the sake of being controversial, The Edge of Reason is not likely to score very high on that ridiculous Christian Morality Meter found on The Christian Guide to Fantasy. . .
Hopefully this book won't fly too low under the radar, as it's a quality read.
The final verdict: 7.75/10