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Fiery Edge of Steel

Posted by Vanessa On Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Noon Onyx is a waning magic user--the same magic used to control the demons who won Armageddon. Her magic is not what's extraordinary, it's that she's a woman with an ability that manifests only in men. In the series' first book, DARK LIGHT OF DAY, Noon had to come to grips with her ability and be trained so she wouldn't be a danger to herself and others.

As her schooling progresses, Noon has improved--even if her control still isn't what it should be. But even as a maegester-in-training there is a lot expected of her. First off is that despite a pacifist philosophy she must be willing to kill the demons who transgress the law. The other is to accept a student of waxing magic as her protector. But as someone who doesn't plan to seek out dangerous situations, she finds this exercise pointless. That is, until she's sent on her first assignment to the Swallows, a swamp region where the locals complain of disappearances and blame their own demon protector as the culprit.

FIERY EDGE OF STEEL is told from Noon's straightforward point-of-view narrative. She's been raised in a privileged household, but even that has its own problems considering the magical ability of her parents, and especially her father, the head of the Demon Council. Noon knows she'll never live up to her father's expectations and she's determined to be her own woman. But as a future maegester she's under the direct influence of the Demon Council. Even by the end of the book I wasn't really sure what I thought about her. She wasn't too whiny, annoying, or unrealistic, but she was still meh for me.

I liked the secondary characters much better. There's the mysterious Ari Carmine, her boyfriend and partner on their assignment to the Swallows. There's Rafe Sinclair, the laid-back waxing magic user who's assigned to guard her, but Noon can't seem to get him to cooperate like she wants him to. There's Ari's guardian waxing magic user Fara, who exclusively uses glamour to cover her true appearance. Even the ship's captain is fascinating. The mystery of these people is unraveled throughout the book, and I found their quirks more interesting than even the main character's.

The setting is what makes this book shine--it takes place after Armageddon, only it wasn't the host of Heaven who won, it was the demons. That doesn't necessarily mean that demons rule the world, but it does mean they live openly among humans; fortunately humans have been given the ability to seek justice on demons using their magic. Sometimes it was weird to have this half-medieval, half-modern setting, with jeans and t-shirts, espressos, swords, scripture, and magic spells. The concept is interesting and the way Archer displays for us the landscape, people, and magic all work together well.

However, despite a fun setting and interesting characters, it was the story itself that held back my giving an unhesitating endorsement. Which is too bad because all of the elements are there. Well, except maybe for the meh main character, but she's fine as a narrator so it didn't bug me too much. It's that I had a hard time knowing where this story was going. Like Homer's The Odyssey, FIERY seems to be mostly about the journey (not that I'd compare them as equivalent in literary terms)--Noon and Co. spend three-quarters of the book trying to get to the Swallows. Maybe I'm being too nitpicky, but I waded through an extended focus on the tedium of traveling and study, waiting for Noon and her entourage to arrive in the Swallows where the real crescendo of action should happen. As a result, the ending didn't have the building action it needed to give it real significance.

I continue to find myself--even a couple of weeks after finishing it--thinking about the magic and demons and angels. The plot? Not so much.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Not that I remember
Violence: Scattered fighting with demons, but without gory detail
Sex: An undetailed scene; otherwise implied or referenced

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