This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.
Today I’d like to have a chat about Edge of the Breach, Rift Cycle Book 1 by Halo Scott.
This was challenging to me from the start. Ugh, two first-person main characters in alternating point-of-view chapters? Well, at least they’re distinctive. As long as it’s not written largely in the present tense, I guess we’ll be – GAH!
No, it was confronting but I got past it and it was really very well-written. And let’s cut to the chase, the structure and voice was not the issue here. Not really the issue, anyway. There is excellent worldbuilding, the setup is brilliantly weird in just the right ways, and right from the start it felt like I was reading something special. Now, if only the co-tagonist wasn’t such an insufferable superior little shitbird.
I kid you not. Absolutely unbearable, he reads like a rightoid techbro incel of the very worst kind, and I know it was intentional character villainy for purposes I will circle back to later, and it was exacerbated by the first-person perspective, but it’s just too bad. Oh and of course he’s very tall. I felt strongly tempted to quit several times, and it wasn’t the atrocities he was committing (that, let’s just say if you’re not really into grimdark and you think a couple of grisly murders of deserving bullies is as bad as it’s going to get, you might want to take care with this one). It was just very hard to put up with. I’m glad I stuck with it, because a character this unlikeable is a worthwhile player on the stage Scott’s made … but it was an ordeal.
So. The year is 7000-something and there’s been some really weird wars. Everyone basically lives in Antarctica which is now the top of the planet (due to the poles switching? The planet flipping over? Doesn’t matter) and there’s a hole in the sky leading to “the gods’ realm” (the titular “Breach”, although the edge of the Breach also serves as an extended sociocultural and behavioural metaphor, you know, kind of like “forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown”), and overall there is a very cool collection of latter-day realms and gods and stories around which our narrative is woven.
From one of these wars, people got superpowers based on the seasons in which they were born, and at varying strengths depending on how close they were born to the solstice. I suppose this meant everyone had some level of superpowers but most were just so weak it really made little difference to their lives, but it was in the little details – and the broad social strokes – that it really came into play. How would a post-apocalyptic world where everyone has one of four magical powers behave? Maybe something like this. The way healing and other gifts are woven into the new social norms is really interesting.
We follow incel Joker boy, Kyder, who is a gravity wizard; and a tragedy-haunted girl, Rune, who has shield power. They are both born on the solstice, summer and winter respectively, and at midday and midnight respectively. This makes them mega-powerful at their respective magics (and I know I keep saying magic, but this is definitely a dystopian sci-fi), and naturally sets them on paths that will inevitably intersect.
Part 2 of the book sees Kyder moving from the “Shelf” to Zawad, a city in Antarctica and the main site of human habitation. I was not fully clear about where various settlements and things were and how they related to each other, despite (I say this without sarcasm) some excellent info-dumps. But I sort of got the general gist. Oh my God Kyder is unbearable. Everything is different and more prosperous in Zawad but he’s not impressed. Of course! He’s so insightful! Oh, and he criticises other people for using big words? Fuck this little turd.
Sorry, that part came directly from my reading notes and I felt it had to be preserved verbatim.
Anyway, Rune is already in Zawad, where she has been living as a street (or in this case rooftop) punk – as charged by her mum to live a full and adventurous life. Which, okay there’s a whole book of philosophy to be written on that idea, but we don’t have time.
Everything comes to a head, as one might expect, as the years go by and Kyder and Rune grow into their power. Culminating in a series of scenes that … mmm, yeah, you’re going to have to just read this one if you have the stomach for it, I think.
There was plenty of sex, none of it particularly nice aside from the one threesome we get (although fair warning, it’s tainted more than a little due to the ages of the participants … I told you, this isn’t going to be for everyone – and this was as good as it got!). But yes, rape and statutory rape were the order of the day. Oh yeah and there’s some necrophilia, the ol’ time-honoured art of cracking open a cold one … it’s not for the faint of heart. Edge of the Breach gets a Kids out of a possible IT. You know why.
There was plenty of gore too! Dismemberment and kidney removal and self-harm and suicide and child fighting rings and all kinds of brutality. All the trigger warnings, my friends. All of them. Frankly it got a bit gratuitous and overdone as it went on, but it served the plot and it earned the book a four-and-a-half flesh gobbet rating out of a possible five.
The worldbuilding is amazing here. Is it sci-fi? Sure, why not? If Lightblade was, then this is. It’s the sci-fi that comes from weapons and disasters far beyond today’s level and beyond our understanding, and that’s where WTF lives. How we get there from here is anyone’s guess, but it’s sci-fi of Deathgate Cycle calibre and I wholeheartedly approve. And the slow-burn emergent facts about gods and the other realms was really interesting. I give it a Dan Simmons Ilium series out of a possible Dan Simmons personal opinion about literally anything.
My Final Verdict
This was … a good book. Hard to read, hard to swallow, but really good. I kind of loved the introduction of Ramiel and Raze, gross as they were. Overall this was a story spoiled by one deeply unlikeable protagonist, but clearly the point (as I alluded to back at the start) was to have as hate-worthy and irredeemable a character as possible, and then have Rune accept him and show the power of that acceptance. Doesn’t mean I have to accept a single damn thing about him though. I can admire the philosophy and thought here, without cosigning the take-away. Still: four stars.
 Cultural and legal standards of the narrative, and all that … fourteen years old is statutory rape from this reader’s point of view, so as warmed as I am by how loved and willing and very not-fucked-up Rune is throughout her character arc, it was a confronting thing to read about.
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