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Book Review: The Edge of Chaos by Jak Koke

# Genre: Shared World, Sword and Sorcery
# Mass Market Paperback: 320 pages
# Publisher: Wizards of the Coast; Original edition
# Publication Date: August 4, 2009
# ISBN-10: 0786951893
# ISBN-13: 978-0786951895
# Author Website: Jak Koke

The Edge of Chaos is a great recent addition to the Forgotten Realms mythos, in which a spellscarred rouge and a female devotee of Kelemvor the god of Judgment must join forces to stop the Order of the Blue Fire from extending the borders of the plaguewrought land.

First, some background. In the fourth edition of the Forgotten Realms D&D roleplaying game, a magical plague struck all of Toril. Its power changed people, leaving them dead, insane, or spell-scarred. Those that survived with only a scar were given magical powers of all kinds, from bolts of blue fire to power over souls. The land was also changed, and what was left behind were pockets of wild magic, areas that are chaotic at best and extremely dangerous. Now, a hundred years after the blue fire swept across the land, there are some who still brave the plaguewrought land in hopes of receiving power through the spellscar.

In Jak Koke’s first novel in the Forgotten Realms setting, his story spins on the aforementioned rogue Duvan and his partner Slanya. Though at the beginning of the novel the two do not know each other, by its end they are very close. Both had traumatic childhoods (relayed to the reader in both direct and indirect ways), losing family members under tragic circumstances. Duvan has a unique ability, one which could destroy all the diabolical plans of the Order of the Blue Fire, who exist for the sole purpose of extending the depth and breadth of the plaguewrought lands. Slanya, a priest of the god who determines where souls spend eternity, is tasked by a potion master named Gregor to collect a unique ingredient found only on the plaguewrought lands. The Duvan and Slanya join forces to collect the rare grass, only to find that getting the ingredient is only the first foray in a greater battle.

Koke is a wonderfully entertaining writer. As I read through the story, I kept thinking, “Jak Koke, where have you been hiding your talent all this time?” A Locus number one bestseller, Koke’s characterization and complex but easy to follow plotting is an excellent addition to the Realms. His story is paced well, letting up only slightly on the gas pedal to allow for small bits of introspection and background on the protagonists, with a continuing build of danger and suspense. He also juggles several perspectives, well not keeping the reader trapped in any one body for too long. The main characters have depth and it is they that drive the plot, rather than the villain, an unusual turn of events in a area of fantasy fiction that is often full of cliches.

I did find that the romantic element the Koke introduces in the latter half of the book to be a tad contrived. It just appears abruptly and right after a point at which I would have thought that a love connection would be nigh on impossible. After all, one had abandoned (sort of) the other while in a very dangerous situation. This particular element of the story comes off as forced. On the other hand, Koke had been doing a great job, till this point, of creating a lasting companionship between the two characters and had he left it at that, it would have been both an unusual and less predictable twist.

But though I did not like that particular element of the story, one cannot deny that The Edge of Chaos is exciting, entertaining, and full or interesting characters and dangerous denizens. The novel is reading comfort food, but among its comparable dishes, it is a culinary masterpiece. A Martha Stewart meatloaf versus, lets say, my wife’s. I highly recommend The Edge of Chaos for all Forgotten Realms fans, and as a good starting point for those wanting to begin reading in the shared world.