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Review of Along The Razor’s Edge by Rob J. Hayes

I discovered Along The Razor’s Edge by chance on Twitter. The cover caught my eye—in fact, more than that, the cover blew me away. I don’t normally comment on the exterior aesthetic qualities of a book in my review, but I have to say: it’s one of the most beautifully designed books I’ve ever seen! The artwork is phenomenal, the choice of font and colour, the way the wraparound flows. Truly a work of splendour. I ordered the hardback, and it sits as a prized artefact on my shelf.

But Along The Razor’s Edge is not simply beautiful on the outside, but within as well. It takes a lot to impress me in the genre I love so well—Fantasy. It’s a sad truism that we often most criticise the things we truly adore, and Fantasy sadly has a tendency to slip into the province of clichés and tropes regurgitated a thousand times. I’m all for the reinvention of archetypes, but each iteration has to become living, has to speak in a new voice.

This is what Rob J. Hayes has achieved. His heroine, Eskara, is like many wronged women of fantasy’s annals, but also unique. Right away, her voice (the novel is written in first person from the perspective of an older, wiser Eskara) captures the attention and imagination. I was enthralled by her energy, fury, passion, and by the juxtaposition of her current self, with all its hard-earned wisdom, looking back on the events and feelings of her youth with a mixture of tenderness, disgust, embarrassment, anger, and even a little humour. Fantasy novels are not easy to write in first person because one has to unveil an entire universe as well as a deep and believable psychological interior. However, Rob J. Hayes manages to achieve both, a quite stunning feat.

Eskara’s voice is direct, and through this directness Rob J. Hayes manages to deploy aphoristic wisdoms that elevate the text beyond simple narrative to something more poetic. Here are some examples:

Anyone could have done his job, but those of little consequence often mistake convenience for importance.”

Fortunes change so quickly with the fall of empires.”

History is often just another word for mystery.”

These insights entertain and challenge us as we follow Eskara’s path.

We begin in the depths of the Pit, a prison into which Eskara has been thrown for fighting on the wrong side of a war. Once a great Sourcerer (and note, that spelling is significant, as you will discover later on in the book), now, she has been robbed of her powers. This is rags to riches one-o-one and its remarkable how quickly we become invested in Eskara’s journey. The Pit is like many hellish prisons from literature: the “scabs” are forced into gruelling manual labour and psychologically and physically tortured by their foremen, who are also prisoners themselves. However, what intrigues is that the Pit is also full of mysteries that the author slowly unveils throughout the story. Rob J. Hayes never bombards us with too much information, but rather allows us to gradually sense how colossal his world is outside the bounds of the Pit.

I would describe this novel as Ross Jeffery’s Tome meets The Sovereign Stone trilogy by Margaret Weiss and Tracey Hickman. I think the former comparison is particularly apt not just because of the harrowing depiction of prison life (although I should caveat this by assuring sensitive readers Hayes does not quite go so far as Jeffery into the depths of human sadism), but also a study of characters. Eskara, of course, is our main character as well as our narrator, but through her eyes we also observe a host of intriguing personas, some of whom we love, some we hate, and some whom we feel a mixture of both for. Though many of these characters—having earned their place in the Pit—are less than savoury or respectable we find them compelling and invest in their stories.

Though the opening of the book is strong, I would say that the second half of the book is where things really kick off, where the characters start to fully establish themselves, and where the momentum of the story becomes a no-stops crazy train. I know other reviewers have expressed a different view. I personally enjoy more slow and involved stories, though there were one or two moments where I felt the narrative thrust did lose momentum for the sake of filling us in on backstory. This is because Eskara does not relate her story from a single point in time, but also flashes back to her childhood and the early experiences that influence her character. Whenever a story alternates between multiple timelines, it’s natural that the pace slows and a reader instead looks for how these lines are all going to intersect. And intersect they do with stunning force at the novel’s denouement. There is real emotional weight in the final moments of this book, where we sense the utter calamity of what has to be lost in order to find freedom.

There are many wonderful surprises in Along The Razor’s Edge: characters acting in unanticipated ways, backstory revelations that reshape what we think about someone, and mysteries unveiled—story directions we simply didn’t expect the book to go in. There is one twist in particular that chilled and thrilled me and has me wondering where the author will take this in subsequent books.

I should conclude, therefore, by saying my only irritation is that I am now compelled to buy the next entry in the series! But in truth, it’s a pleasure to discover a new and brilliant Fantasy writer. I could spend a hell of a lot of time with these characters and in this world, and that’s really what great Fantasy is all about.

You can buy the book here:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Amazon CA