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Monday, March 11, 2013

Dark, Dystopian Diamond-in-the-Rough Just Needs a Little More Diamond, a Little Less Rough

It's been more than 100 years since the Cataclysm, a nuclear apocalypse that leveled the world's greatest cities and annihilated all but 5% of Earth's population.  Two centuries later, most of the survivors' descendants live in protected Cities.  In Mlena, their lives are ruled by the Commission.  Under the direction of the Prince, the regime determines which couples will be bonded together, how many children—and of which sex—each union may produce, and the fates of anyone who dares to speak out against them.  Despite the restrictions, few Citizens complain.  The alternative is living Outside, where acid storms rage, dragons roar, and other genetically-altered monsters roam wild, threatening any human who steps through the Shield that keeps the City safe.  

As an Exile, Sabah is forbidden to live in Mlena.  She's an orphan, a child who was born after her mother reached Quota and thus turned out of the City—the Commission's version of population control.  Saved by the Mistress, Sabah now lives in the Manor with other Gutterlings.  The large home sits within sight of Mlena, but is shrouded in the mists that pour off the nearby waterfalls.  Once the mighty falls lured millions of visitors to its edges; now, it hides the starrbriar, a powerful flower which the Mistress collects with desperate fervor.  Braving the treacherous falls to gather the plants can only be done by the smallest children, a task the Mistress is not afraid to assign them.  If they perish in the pursuit, there are always more being left outside Mlena's Shield.  

Sabah, the oldest of the Manor children and the caretaker of the others, can't stand the savage ritual, especially when the Mistress refuses to explain why the starrbriars must be gathered.  She's tired of the secrets.  Tired of her futile existence.  When a ban-wolf begins stalking her, Sabah doesn't feel fear, but curiosity.  The beasts are supposed to be ferocious and yet, this one seems almost human.  The more she gets to know Arjun, the more she wonders:  What is the Mistress hiding?  What does Sabah really know about the dangerous world in which she lives?  Who are the true monsters?  And where does she belong—with a woman who sacrifices kids to get what she wants, to the man who helps her, or to the beast that could kill them all?  

I don't accept many self-published novels for review because, in general, I find them to be poorly written, full of editing issues and just really not worth my time.  Occasionally, though, an intriguing premise catches my attention.  Even more rarely, the quality of the writing convinces me to give the book a try.  Such is the case with Edge of the Falls, a dark, dystopian re-telling of Beauty and the Beast by Nazarea Andrews.  Although I didn't love, love, love the book, I can say one thing for sure and certain—this girl can write.  She knows how to create a vivid, atmospheric world that comes alive in the reader's imagination.  Did everything about the place make sense? No.  Still, I found it interesting enough to keep reading.  My enthusiasm started to wane a little with the insta-love between Arjun and Sabah, the bizarre love triangle (square?), not to mention all the dystopian clichés that started cropping up toward the middle of the book.  The story starts out with some original ideas, but it quickly becomes more of the same ole, same ole.  Usually, I care more about characters than plot anyway—this cast, though, really didn't do much for me.  They were all pretty flat and I didn't get why all the males fell so head-over-heels for Sabah, who's moody, fickle and doesn't actually do much to solve her own problems.  

So, in the end, Andrews' way with words impressed me as well as her ability to keep me engaged in Edge of the Falls, even though I wanted a lot more from the story.  Overall, I have to say I'm glad I took a chance on this self-published diamond-in-the-rough—I just would have liked more diamond, less rough.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a lot of Under the Never Sky and Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi)

Grade:  C+

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG-13 for language (no F-bombs), violence and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Edge of the Falls from Nazarea Andrews.  Thank you!

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