by Ilona Andrews, fantasy (2010)
Ace, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01945-8
Bayou Moon is the second book in Ilona Andrews's The Edge series, but this one can stand alone pretty well as it features a different main couple and the characters from the previous book On The Edge make only casual cameo appearances in this one. But do read the review of that previous book if you are new to the series, because that review has the lowdown on the setting that is the Edge.
William Wolf is the hero of this book. Formerly a changeling soldier of the Red Legionnaires of the Weird kingdom of Adrianglia, he currently sulks in the Edge, with mostly his army of toy soldiers for company. Indeed, he is almost a different character from that guy in On The Edge: here, he is transformed into a literal lone wolf, endearingly awkward around our heroine Cerise Mar, without showing any of the charm of that William Wolf in the previous book.
The author however ramps up William's woobie factor here. If you have a soft spot for wounded heroes, keep your guard up around William. As a changeling, he had been abandoned by his mother who handed the infant William to the Hawk's Academy. At the Academy, changeling children are harshly and even cruelly brought up and trained to be soldiers - disposal front line soldiers, I'd wager. When changelings experience the frenzy of bloodlust, they can rarely control themselves, hence their usefulness as assassins and berserk soldiers. So poor William walks around, certain that he will never belong anywhere, even as he willingly kills for the heroine... as I've said, if you have a soft spot for woobies, be gentle with William. He's been hurt, awww.
In this story, he is requested by the elite covert force type of agency called the Mirrors of Andrianglia for a favor. You see, Andrianglia and the Dukedom of Louisiana (not to be confused with the Lousiana of our Broken world) are currently at loggerheads and it takes very little for outright war to break out between those two countries. A nasty elite operative from Louisiana, a man known as Spider, is currently somewhere in the mires of the Edge, leading his team of mutated tentacled magic-using killers from Planet Hentai to locate... something, whatever it is. The Mirrors are certain that this something will allow Louisiana to annihilate Andrianglia, and therefore, they want William to stop Spider. William agrees, if only because he has a score to settle with Spider.
Meanwhile, the swamp mires of this part of Broken, the part that borders both the Broken and Weird regions of Louisiana, are also the setting of a battle zone of smaller but no less bloody scale. Here are where the current generation of Weird aristocrats, descendants of the "pioneering" Weird aristocrats from the Dukedom of Louisiana who opted to move to the Edge and cut off contact with their home for various reasons a long time ago, live. The Sheeriles are rich but small in number, while the Mars are poor but numerous in numbers. What the Sheeriles lack in numbers they make do with hired muscles armed to the teeth. The Mars on the other hand are known as the Rats - there are so many of them, it's near impossible to get rid of them entirely. There are no Romeo and Juliet here - these two families hate each other and want the other clan wiped off the face of the Edge with extreme prejudice.
When the story opens, Cerise's parents are MIA and the Sheeriles make their move, claiming that Cerise's father Gustave sold them the Mars the Mars' land. Cerise is now the leader of the Mars clan in her father's absence, and she decides that the plan could be simple: she'd travel to the Broken where her uncle Hugh had exiled himself there years ago, retrieve the papers needed to prove that the Sheeriles are lying about Gustave selling them the land, and then declare the day after as official hunting season on the Sheeriles.
However, on her way back from Broken, everything that can go wrong does go wrong, forcing her to work together with William as they try to make their way back to the Edge. Along the way, William discovers who she is and realizes that the Spider is after her for reasons unknown to him at that time. Sticking to her is the best way for him to get to Spider. But what will Cerise do should she learn that he is a changeling who is working for the enemy?
Bayou Moon is a better read than On The Edge. I believe I am one of the handful of people out there who found Declan, the hero of the previous book, too dull for words. Well, William may be a different person in this book, but he has the woobie mojo emanating from every pore of his muscular hirsute body. I can't resist, sigh. He's also a nice change from the alpha wolf hero typical in stories of this kind: he may turn into a big wolf when he's mad, but he's also that wolf that wags his tail happily when he sees the heroine coming at him. He's not the take-charge type, instead he's the dangerous killer who will do anything for the heroine.
Cerise is a capable heroine, a pretty strong match for the hero. The author however never allows Cerise to shine in the last few chapters - she has to settle for the token girl-on-girl fight while the hero takes care of the big bad. This disappointing development aside, Cerise can hold her own pretty well in this story, at least well enough not to be overshadowed completely by William. Her conflicted emotions revolving around her confidence in leading the Mars clan on her own feel pretty real, and she also has plenty of chemistry with William.
Now, I hear from people that The Edge is a series that is intended to be more accessible to romance readers, but while On The Edge may fit that bill, Bayou Moon is not exactly an ideal romance. The relationship between William and Cerise takes a backseat in the second half of the book when the Mars clan show up - there are many of them, heh - and the levels of action and violence shoot through the roof. The violence is nowhere near the deliciously gory level of the author's Magic series, but it is there, and it is frequent.
Also, this book breaks several romance genre rules. The biggest rule broken is the one where the main characters must be morally absolute - here, both Cerise and William do have a code of honor, but it's one that extends only to their own people. Everyone that stands in their way is fair game, and boy, by the last page, both Cerise and William have their hands completely bloody. I love this, but I suspect the more traditional romance readers out there may be horrified by the savage violence displayed by the "good guys" toward the "bad guys".
As usual, the world building is solid and I get to know more about the Edge in this book. And also, most of the villains display a human side. Even if they display greed or a lust for power, these human weaknesses are something I can understand and relate to, so I actually cringe when they bite the dust. Remember poor Arag? I'm still sore about the death of that poor adorable killer monster. There are at least two characters here whose fate echoes that of poor Arag - they are villains mostly because they are too weak to overcome their upbringing or nature, and I really hurt when I see them die. Won't someone think of the poor psychopathic monsters who can't help being what they are? They need love and understanding too. No, I'm not kidding. I find these ugly monsters of Ilona Andrews strangely adorable - I find myself feeling so sorry for poor Vur for reasons I'm still not willing to figure out. Maybe I should stop playing Neopets so much.
All things considered, Bayou Moon is a rock-solid and very entertaining read. The momentum falters slightly in the second half when it seems that there are just way too many Rats taking over the story, but it is only by the last page that I can finally release my breath. This book is that exciting a read. I think I need to get a T-shirt from Ilona Andrews's fan club.
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