Brenda Cooper – Edge of Dark

brendacooper-edgeofdarkWhat if a society banished its worst nightmare beyond the far edge of the solar system, destined to sip only dregs of light and struggle for the barest living? And yet, that life thrived. It grew and learned and became more powerful than humans. What if an entire solar system full of humans vastly underestimated the threat posed by the beings it banished?

Ranger Charlie Windar never wants to leave the restored planet Lym, even though, at night, he looks up at the brilliant lights of space stations. But then he meets a particular tourist, Nona Hall, who has come for a private tour.

When Nona appears, unexpected news comes with her. Outlaws from the Edge are returning to the inner system. Between them, Nona and Charlie might have the resources to get to the Edge and gain information to save their people.

The brilliant intelligences of the Edge have waited in the cold, hard black for a long time. They are ready to reoccupy their birthplace at almost any cost to its human inhabitants.

I first encountered Brenda Cooper’s writing in the Valdemar anthologies, where her stories were some of my favourites. When Pyr announced her Ruby’s Song books in 2011 I was really interested in reading them, but as they were SF a bit intimidated to read them, because I was a fantasy girl, right? Fast forward four years and I’ve established for myself that yes, I actually do enjoy reading science fiction, so when the offer for a review copy of Edge of Dark arrived, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. And I’m glad I did, because Cooper tells an interesting story set in a rich universe. 

Edge of Dark, the first in the Glittering Edge sequence, is set in the same universe as the books in the Ruby’s Song duology, The Creative Fire and The Diamond Deep. In fact, Nona Hall, one of the three viewpoint characters in this book, is the daughter of Ruby’s crew mate Onor, a viewpoint character in The Creative Fire. Edge of Dark stands alone from the previous duology, but I suspect having that background might make some of the references more meaningful and give a more solid grounding in the history on the universe.

The story of the return of the Next, as the banished post-humans call themselves, unfolds through three different points-of-view. The first is that of Nona Hall; the daughter of two people at the heart of what happened on The Creative Fire. Ruby Martin and her crew have loomed large in Nona’s upbringing and while she has made her own life as a biologist and teacher, the past won’t let her linger in obscurity. But when Nona is put at the centre of events and has to act, she doesn’t suddenly turn into a major diplomatic super star or military genius, she has to figure out how to get things done through trial and error. I really appreciated that Cooper didn’t make Nona naturally brilliant at everything, that she didn’t almost magically bloom and proved to be the hero everyone expects her to be. In fact, even though Nona does get a lot of things right, she is also manipulated into things by the great and powerful of her home station, The Diamond Deep.

The second viewpoint is that of Charlie Windar. Where Nona is a spacer, Charlie is very much planet-born and bred; he loves Lym, his home planet and its restoration and conservation is his life’s only mission. He’s an unlikely space ambassador, yet he grows into his role quite splendidly. Charlie is a hero despite himself and his devotion to Lym made him a very appealing character. I also really loved his bond with Cricket, his three-legged tongat. Cricket reminded me of nothing so much as an overgrown feline and I adored her. She had personality without being turned into a talking animal companion and she plays an important role in Charlie’s characterisation. The chemistry between Nona and Charlie was great, though the implication that some of the attraction was due to Charlie’s inclination to heal broken things, whether they were human, animal, or even a planet did grate a bit.

The true star of the book for me however was Chrystal, Nona’s best friend. It is through Chrystal’s story that we most closely encounter the Next and I found her story fascinating. The questions about what makes someone human and what constitutes the core of a person – in essence, what makes you YOU – were thoroughly explored and examined from all sides. Chrystal’s bond with her family – she’s in a quad marriage, two men, two women – was beautiful and powerful and served to further investigate these questions. Chrystal’s sense of self and of humanity when surrounded by the Next was depicted in a wonderfully complex way and she was my favourite character in the narrative.

The storylines weave in and out of each other throughout the book and sees them meeting many of the same characters in different circumstances. Most notably, Nona’s aunt Satyana, a media mogul on The Deep, and her partner Gunnar Ellenson, who is one of the most powerful and richest men in the Glittering. In some ways they take the position of antagonists in the novel, as their motives are hard to fathom and don’t always prove to be as straight-forward as they seem. Another character that appears at different points in the book is Jhailing Jim, one of the Next. He is one of the direct contacts with the Next and while the Next are ostensibly the enemy in the book, his character and his explanations of the Next make them seem more sympathetic than I’d expected at the beginning of the book.

Edge of Dark was an engaging novel with likeable protagonists and surprisingly sympathetic antagonists. In fact, you might say that humanity’s greatest enemy turns out to be humanity itself. The book is the first of a sequence, yet stood alone well, with a satisfying ending. I still want to know what happens after though and learn more about the Next. With Edge of Dark Brenda Cooper delivers a great beginning to a new series. If you like space opera stories about AIs and post-humans, then you should definitely check out Edge of Dark.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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  • I loved this book as well; one of the best I’ve read this year. Chrystal’s POV was great. It was fascinating to see how her and each member of her family’s view changed over time about being Next and what is considered “human”. I thought I had my mind up about wether/how much I considered Next human, but I had to do some thinking after the ending!