My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Length: 341 pages
Release date: 10 July 2018
Things have changed for seventeen-year-old Zoe ever since the otherworldly events that brought her together with the mysterious bounty hunter she calls X. In order to save Zoe and her family, X has done the unthinkable – he’s given up his freedom and returned to captivity in the Lowlands.
X is determined to break the lords’ hold on him once and for all, but being stripped of his power pushes him toward a darkness he’s never experienced and a past he’s never known. The secrets that surface could be the key to reuniting X and Zoe… or they could mean the destruction of everything they have been fighting for.
“Your mother did eventually find love. She found it, and–because neither Fernley nor even the Lowlands had extinguished her sense of her own worth–she knew she had a right to it.”
At the end of my review of The Edge of Everything, I mentioned my high hopes that the sequel would be an improvement on the first book, which I found a disappointment in certain areas. My reasoning was that while The Edge of Everything frequently got tripped up by basic world-building and setting up Zoe and X’s relationship, the next instalment wouldn’t be constrained by exposition and could ‘turn to exploring the deeper, darker mysteries of the Lowlands’. I’m happy to say that my hopes were answered: The Brink of Darkness is livelier, grittier and more rewarding than its predecessor.
It took us a novel to build up to this goodness, but I’m glad that this was how Jeff Giles closed out his duology. Building on the foundations of the first book, the story shines. It helps that compared to The Edge of Everything, The Brink of Darkness focuses much more on X and spends a lot more time in the Lowlands. Nothing against Zoe–girl, you’re kind of crazy but I admire your guts–it’s just that as a mostly vanilla human there’s no way for her appeal to compare to a bounty hunter born in hell.
And then there’s the brilliantly created Lowlands, which are actually Hell with a cherry on top. That immediately makes it beat out most YA fantasy settings in my book. As before, the Lowlands are again the best part of the novel. Whether they work in spite or because of their outlandishness, I suspect that Giles had as much fun fleshing out the various corners of the afterlife gone wrong as I had discovering it.
It helps that The Brink of Darkness brings in a new cast of Lowlands supporting characters and equips them all with captivating backstories. Some familiar figures are also brought back and developed more fully, including my new favourite Ripper and her admirer the Russian guard. Oh right, excuse me, he’s actually Ukrainian, as one of many lighter moments reveals. (I knew the guy was too much of a Russian stereotype to actually be Russian.)
We get lots more grim histories of Lowlands residents’ past lives and the crimes they committed. One of them is downright breaks-every-rule-of-the-Geneva-Convention abhorrent, but Giles works his usual magic and makes you sympathise with the character anyway. I thought it was handled pretty well, based on the underlying principle that no crime makes a person unredeemable. And humour. Loads of dark humour. It’s in good taste and keeps the tone from sliding into depression, so naturally I loved it.
Yeah this book is a romance, but familial love and platonic love play just as important a role. Both of them save X and Zoe’s asses about a million times so that they can ride off into the sunset with their Happily Ever After. I’m still not sold on the romance—there’s a remarkable passage of self-awareness where Val points out how quickly it happened and how Zoe’s feelings might have been affected by residual mental issues—but I’m sold on the other emotional elements.
For his part, Dervish is a menacing villain. He’s memorable because of how much you want to deck him in the face–I kept waiting for some semblance, any semblance of humanity to break through, which just made it more crushing every time he slipped further past the moral event horizon.
Even though he had essentially no redeeming features, he was a convincing, well-developed antagonist. I was a big fan of Dervish, namely of him being thrown into the deepest pit of the Lowlands.
On the other hand, we finally get to meet X’s parents! It was even better than I hoped for after all those hints in The Edge of Everything. I would still have liked to see more answers regarding the Lowlands, especially the Higher Power ruling over them, but I believe Giles chose the right place to leave his characters. He didn’t solve every problem, he didn’t change the world, but it was a hopeful, emotionally satisfying conclusion that ended the series on a high note.
*Thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing for providing a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.*
Other reviews in this series: