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Cerise Mar and her family all live in the Mire, a swampy region of the Edge, that place sandwiched between the Broken where magic exists only in fairy stories, and the Weird where everything is controlled by magic. For 80 years the Mars have been feuding with the Sheeriles, another family living in the Mire but when Cerise's parents go missing and the problems with the Sheeriles begin to ramp up, it seems that Cerise must lead her extended family into battle. Things aren't as clear cut as she would like, however, as it seems there is a traitor in the family and worse still, the Sheeriles have a dangerous ally newly from the Weird.
William Wolf is a loner who has come to live in the Edge leaving behind his unhappy past in the Weird. He's a changeling and though he was despised by most of those who live in the Weird, he was raised from a child to fight on their behalf. He's known little of family or affection in his life and his one aim is to wreak his revenge upon Spider, an amoral and dangerous agent who now seems to be involved in a family feud for reasons which are unclear.
Cerise and William are going to need to join forces in order to rescue her parents, protect her family and defeat the vile Spider.
Having read and enjoyed the first book in this loosely connected series, I couldn't wait to get stuck into this latest story which turned out to be even better. In fact, of the four books in the entire series, this one was my favourite.
Although this book definitely comes under the genre heading of fantasy, it's difficult to categorise it further because the setting is pretty unique. It isn't urban fantasy (it's mainly set in a bog!) neither is it traditional fantasy and it's certainly not a romance, at least not in the accepted sense of the word. In fact, it's a blend of all those and more besides and I loved it. This has an even darker feel than most of this writer's work and some of the creatures which inhabit this imaginary land owe more to the horror genre than to fairytale or fantasy.
Although William Sandine, the hero - or more correctly the anti hero - in this book, appeared in the previous instalment of this series, it was as a relatively minor character. Here his personality is more fully described and he's a difficult person to get a handle on initially. William was born in Adrianglia, a land in the Weird. He's a changeling being able to shift from human to wolf form, and all such children born in Adrianglia are removed from their parents and taken into custody of the state who train them as soldiers; killers, who are regarded as little better than cannon fodder. As a consequence, William is somewhat disenfranchised and has great difficulty relating to others and maybe as a way of making up for his lack of any childhood, he has a fascination for plastic action figures, especially of the superhero variety.
When William is approached by the Adrianglian government to take on an assignment which involves going to that part of the Edge known as the Mire in order to prevent Spider, an enemy agent, from wreaking havoc, William jumps at the chance. He's encountered the cruelty of Spider before, a man who kills changeling children without a thought. This is William's chance to get his revenge and then retire from service to Adrianglia.
In many respects Cerise and her family are just as disenfranchised as William. They're originally descended from noble stock from the Weird but were exiled and now live a precarious existence in the inhospitable environment of the Mire. When Cerise's father and mother go missing, she has to take on responsibility as head of the family and her investigation of her parents' disappearance soon leads her to suspect that their enemies, the Sheeriles may be somehow involved. Cerise is young but she's determined to find her missing parents and protect her remaining family also. When she meets up with William, it seems logical for the two to join forces but what follows is a horrific adventure which could well end very badly for all concerned.
What I liked about this book was that although it's pretty obvious who are the main protagonists of the story, the authors (there are two of them) aren't afraid to include other equally dominant characters who manage to make their presence felt without in any way detracting from the main event. In fact, all the secondary characters in this novel are well defined and their actions believable, despite the fantasy setting.
This is a rather complex world having three distinct and very different areas; the Weird, the Broken and the Edge. The Edge itself is further broken down into different zones making it rather difficult to understand initially. As the story progresses, it all becomes much clearer, however, and the reader is then free to just sit back and enjoy the ups and downs of this very exciting adventure.
The first book in the series had strong fairytale elements to it and these are again present in this story but this is a much darker kind of fairytale, more akin to the Brothers Grimm crossed with a huge dollop of Stephen King and Clive Barker.
What romance there is in this book doesn't detract from the adventure elements and it certainly isn't the syrupy kind but is sweet nonetheless. It's a pleasure to see William learn to relate to other people in a more normal way and although Cerise is already a fully developed individual, she also has a few issues to come to terms with. The journey these two make to mutual understanding is sweetly told and never descends into mawkish sentimentality.
I've now read all four books in this short series and enjoyed them all but, for me, this was the standout one. I still prefer the authors' other urban fantasy series over this one but this will appeal not only to fans of fantasy but also those who enjoy horror, too. Some of the creatures of the Mire are definitely the stuff of nightmares.
This book is currently available in paperback and Kindle format with used copies selling for around 60p and the Kindle version for just over £5.