My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Length: 368 pages
Release date: 31 January 2017
For the perfect love, what would you be willing to lose?
It’s been a shattering year for seventeen-year-old Zoe, who’s still reeling from her father’s shockingly sudden death in a caving accident and her neighbors’ mysterious disappearance from their own home. Then on a terrifying sub-zero, blizzardy night in Montana, she and her brother are brutally attacked in a cabin in the woods—only to be rescued by a mysterious bounty hunter they call X.
X is no ordinary bounty hunter. He is from a hell called the Lowlands, sent to claim the soul of Zoe’s evil attacker and others like him. X is forbidden from revealing himself to anyone other than his prey, but he casts aside the Lowlands’ rules for Zoe. As they learn more about their colliding worlds, they begin to question the past, their fate, and their future.
A bounty hunter who is simultaneously a prisoner and an enforcer of hell accidentally meets a normal family and falls in love. That’s a wonderful concept with tons of potential. Unfortunately, its execution in The Edge of Everything is somewhat flaky–this could have been a highly memorable read, but as it is, it seems more like another YA fantasy also-ran.
First, the good: The Lowlands are far and away the best part of the book. X’s mysteriousness works to the story’s favour at the beginning, allowing the reader to gradually sate their curiosity discovering bits and pieces about Jeff Giles’s unique version of hell. Ripper and Banger, two of X’s fellow bounty hunters, are quality characters. It was a good decision to include comic relief as an integral part of the Lowlands narrative–without the gallows humour and snarky quips that feel almost bizarrely out of place in the realm of eternal torment, The Edge of Everything would be a significantly mopier, needlessly edgy (pardon the pun) novel. At times, the Lowlands are just so wacky as a place more horrible than you can imagine and yet hilarious in its ludicrousness, you can’t help but love it.
In addition, there are still so many interesting unanswered questions about the Lowlands that have been passed on to the sequel, some of which centre around X. The guards, the bounty hunters, the lords, you name it–we’ve only seen one piece of the puzzle with regard to each of them, and there is so much potential for a great story here. Especially when we get to the lords and the Higher Power that rules them.
The main issue that trips up the novel starts with an acute lack of plot, rendering the conclusion essentially status quo ante liber. Emotionally, nothing really changes from the start of the book to the end. With the exception of a couple major reveals that feel only partially effective and a newly formed, very predictable romance between Zoe and X, characters are left in a similar emotional place as when we first saw them. I’d venture as far as to say that you could pick up Book Two, The Brink of Darkness, without having read this one and understand just fine.
Because The Edge of Everything is so uneventful, most of the content hinges on the family drama and the romance, neither of which are particularly noteworthy. The family dynamics are okay, decently written if not outstanding, but the romance is rather flat. I believe that fans of John Green or Words in Deep Blue-style calm contemporary romances will find the relationship between Zoe and X more enjoyable than I did. Personally, I don’t feel much chemistry there. It seems like Zoe and X’s attraction is more novelty than actual love; after all, they only know each other for a few days and practically come from different universes.
A big part of the book’s conflict hinges on X having to choose between not being damned to burn in hell forever (literally) and being with Zoe. No offence, but no matter how much you loved someone, I’d wager that most of us would choose not literally being damned to burn in hell forever. Since X’s feelings for Zoe aren’t too convincing to begin with, the sacrifices that he eventually, again very predictably chooses to make for her don’t ring true.
On a smaller scale, there’s the impression that The Edge of Everything might have made slightly better use of its beautiful, deadly Montana setting. The initial snowstorm and later caving scenes are high points that take good advantage of the setting, but still more could have been done. Giles’s prose is succinct and gets the point across, but it’s not remarkable enough to carry the book, the way some other authors have been able to do for books with similar concepts. Like Giles, Victoria Schwab in the Monsters of Verity duology and S. Jae-Jones in Wintersong both write paranormal fantasies with forbidden love between a “cursed” guy and a human girl, but both of these authors write soulful, out of this world prose that makes their relationships utterly believable. Not having that kind of prose to make up for a lacklustre plot, The Edge of Everything is easily readable and easily forgotten.
However, I do have hope that things will change by the sequel, when Giles no longer has to focus on basic world building or having Zoe and X get to know each other and can turn to exploring the deeper, darker mysteries of the Lowlands. Consider me intrigued.
*Thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing for providing a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.*