The Deepest Edge
There were a number of exciting things happening in this debut novel. For one thing, the Chinese hero is definitely something that the romance industry has been missing. The excellently-plotted storyline was captivating, and the characters were interesting. Had there been some chemistry between the hero and heroine, this reviewer would be much more pleased to introduce you to Ms. Hall and The Deepest Edge.
Valence St. Charles is an art curator and sword expert determined to lure the priceless collection of antique Nagatoki swords away from their owner, at least temporarily, for display at the New Orleans Museum of Art and Antiques. But she has another interest in the swords as well; she believes that many of the blades may actually have been forged by Nagatoki’s wife, Lady Kameko, in a time when such a thing was forbidden in Japan. But general disbelief – such theories are considered sacrilege in the world of anitque swords – is hardly her only problem. The owner of these particular blades is a recluse who refuses to meet with her. Using the skills she learned as an orphaned juvenile deliquent on the streets of New Orleans, she manages to locate and infiltrate Mr. T’ang’s extremely secure home in Paris, only to stumble onto the scene of an attempted assassination – and foil it, endangering herself in the process. But she’s in far more danger than she suspects, for, having seen the face of the assassin, she has made herself his next target.
T’ang Jian-Shen is the son of T’ang Po, the powerful leader of the Shandian tong. Having escaped his father’s control and run off with the woman he loved, he now faces a life of constant vigilance against his father’s agents and assassins. When his wife Karen died, his hope died with her, and he has nothing left for his young daughter Lily – or for a resourceful American sword expert. All he can do now is try to keep them safe until the day he can end his father’s reign of terror – forever.
There’s so much incredible and well-placed backstory to this book, I felt like I was reading the second, or maybe third book in a series. The hero has a massive and pertinent history, including his relationships with his late wife, his father, and his best friend Raven, a former US Army Intelligence officer-turned-supermodel by way of plastic surgery (yeah, that one left me skeptical, too). Raven in turn has an extensive backstory including other secondary characters, such as her former colleagues General Kalen Grady, and Colonel Sean “Irish” Delaney. The person with least going on in terms of history is actually the heroine, although what she has is interesting and highly sympathetic, if not always consistent with her current behavior.
The main thing that marred this story, as I mentioned earlier, was the utter lack of chemistry between Jian-Shen and Val. It’s odd, because Raven and Kalen (who apparently have their own book on the way) have it in spades. But despite the author’s best attempts, I never felt that the main characters were even all that attracted to each other. In Jian-Shen’s case, a variety of revelations led me to believe strongly that he’s more interested in owning Val than in having a relationship with her. For her part, we’re told often enough that she feels attracted to him, but that attraction just never takes shape. And when she decides she loves him, I had to wonder why. There was very little relationship development – they spend most of their time talking about swords and why someone’s trying to kill him (about which he doesn’t bother to honest with her until the very end, although there’s no particular reason not to tell her) – and I found it truly unconvincing. Equally unconvincing is the sudden, intense bond that Val and Lily form, which is just a little too convenient to the plot.
There were a few other quibbles and unanswered questions that I had with this story. For instance, Val’s determination to prove to the art community that the swords were forged by Lady Kameko is palpable early on, but essentially dissolves and then disappears completely later on. In addition, having eluded New Orleans police many a time in her teenage years, why is Val suddenly so confident that the authorities can now be trusted to apprehend the assassin in time to save their lives? And then there were plenty of language issues: being from China, why does Jian-Shen converse with everyone other than his bodyguard and Val in Japanese? How is that Val’s New Orleans French is perfectly comprehensible to Parisians – particularly when New Orleans English is often barely comprehensible to other Americans, and we’re in the same country? And why on earth would an Arabic character address the hero as “sahib” (an Indian term of respect)? These are relatively minor items, but ones I found distracting throughout the course of the book.
There were many things that worked in this book, though, particularly the characterizations. Jian-Shen is interesting but remote, while Val is extremely sympathetic most of the time (when she’s not veering into TSTL territory with regards to trusting their fate to the authorities). She’s strong and determined, and generally likable. Meanwhile, secondary character Raven is a great kickass heroine (excuse me, future heroine), like a Bond girl with a good case of “once bitten, twice shy.” She’s captivating to the reader and the other characters alike. Her love/hate relationship with Kalen Grady far outclasses the relationship between Jian-Shen and Val, but also adds another layer to a very complex story.
All in all, it’s the layers and complexity that make this book most interesting, and leave the reader wanting more. While my recommendation for The Deepest Edge is not without reservations, I admit to being very excited about this author’s future work as a result of what I’ve read so far. The verdict? Not a keeper, but definitely on the right track.