(On the Razor’s Edge, by Michael Flynn. Tor, 2013, 349 pp., $25.99)
reviewed by Zeke Teflon
This is the fourth and most recent novel in Michael Flynn’s Spiral Arm series, concerning espionage between the totalitarian Confederation of Central Worlds and the vaguely described United League of the Periphery. Despite it’s vagueness–if you have a central conflict of political systems, it’s helpful to describe what they both are–On the Razor’s Edge has a lot to recommend it. It’s very well written, the plot is intricate, the background exotic, the descriptive passages vivid, and the characters engaging.
The central character, Donovan, is unique: a former political rebel whose memory was wiped and whose mind was split into 10 separate personalities (nine still extant) all expert in some facet of espionage, and who was then put into the service of the totalitarian government that did that to him. Flynn does a fine job of rendering the personalities distinct, through different speech patterns, and in part through use of different fonts for some of the separate personalities. Such use of fonts is often an obnoxious gimmick, but it works here.
The societies in which Flynn places his characters are all set in a diaspora of two dozen settled stars within a few tens of light years of Earth, and, in this novel, Earth itself. Flynn makes use of Arabic, Celtic, and Scandanavian words and names to lend these societies an air of exoticism. (The speech pattern of one character, Ravn Olaffsdottr, sounds like it’s straight out of Fargo.) Unfortunately, there’s not much else that’s exotic about the societies in which Razor’s Edge is set, but for a single passage describing a form of institutionalized sexual harassment on the Confederal worlds. The societies Flynn describes seem, socially, to be simple amalgams of the contemporary and the medieval.
One unusual aspect of On the Razor’s Edge is that unlike many series books it works as a stand-alone novel. Flynn provides enough information in it for the reader to understand the characters and their actions without having read the previous books, and he does this through weaving the information into the story, not through a prologue. However, to fully enjoy On the Razor’s Edge, it’s probably best to read the three previous novels, The January Dancer, Up Jim River, and In the Lion’s Mouth, prior to tackling the latest installment in this series; and, because of the plot intricacies and multiplicity of recurring characters, it’s probably best to read them in quick succession.
If you enjoy well written escapist sci-fi, you’ll probably enjoy On the Razor’s Edge and the other Spiral Arm books.
* * *
Zeke Teflon is the author Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia.