The Edge: facing the Anomaly

Book cover: The Edge - James Smythe60-some years after the mysterious Hyvönen Anomaly was first spotted, it looms on Earth’s doorstep. Some worship it; others fear it; only a select few have any idea what it’s capable of. Tomas Hyvönen’s crew have just 4 years left to figure out how to deal with the enigma before it envelops the planet – unless it consumes them first…

I’ve waited a long time for this book – the third in the Anomaly sequence after The Explorer and The Echo – and (heave a sigh of relief) it hasn’t disappointed. I made a point of rereading the first two to tackle The Edge with the nuances fresh in my mind, but each book provides enough context to broadly work as a stand-alone. While I think they work best with context – and reward rereads – I also think they’re best read unspoiled the first time, so will limit myself to general comments here (although I might have to write a no-holds-barred spoiler post in due course because there’s so much to engage with).

With The Edge, matters are coming to a head. The Anomaly is no longer some odd astronomical observation to be investigated, it’s an imminent threat that we still don’t understand. Ali is an engineer on a small science team in orbit, desperately trying to work out just how much trouble we’re in and whether there’s anything that can be done to avert it. Tomas Hyvönen – aged, body failing – is in command and to my complete surprise he’s pretty much everything his twin Mira told us he would be (of course I had doubts about Mira’s reliability; hell, by the end of The Echo I wouldn’t have been surprised to discover Tomas never existed outside Mira’s fractured mind).

Unfortunately for Ali, this means Tomas is brilliant, but arrogant and ruthless. Ali and medic Monica joke that he recruits a type – ‘those he can see fragility in… that he can manipulate‘ – as they bond over shared experiences of domestic hell. The Edge jumps between time periods to contrast the increasingly tangled mess of the mission with Ali’s history of psychological abuse at the hands of the despicable Xavier. The book’s title reflects Ali’s mental state as much as Earth’s precarious position: she survived her marriage, but is has left deep scars; now she’s under the intense pressure of saving humanity – and things are about to get worse.

The mission has been defunded in a remarkable act of self-harm that I might have found unbelievable until recently; the pressure is mounting on the skeleton crew remaining. When one of them commits suicide in front of Ali, her mental health begins to crumble …or does it? While the Anomaly books always have a psychological angle, The Edge takes shape as a paranoid thriller. The question is whether Ali – and the reader – can trust her point of view.

Where previous narratives seeded doubts about Cormac and Mira’s certainties, Ali is full of self-doubt from the start. When her colleagues rush to reassure her, their words and actions begin to look more and more like those of Xavier in the past. As inexplicable events cascade and secrets are uncovered, it’s increasingly easy to believe that nobody is being entirely honest… but Ali’s memories don’t add up either. Cue a tense narrative of creaking panels, movements in empty spaces and waking nightmares, where those familiar with the series will have suspicions about what is going on from the start; and those new to it can tiptoe through the unravelling web with Ali.

In a departure from previous protagonists, Ali is a damaged but relatable narrator I could root for. While her history is far from uncommon, it’s not one I often see compassionately portrayed in SF, so I was quietly pleased that we got her perspective rather than that of square-jawed astronauts (satirised in The Explorer) or ruthless scientists (dissected in The Echo). I also appreciated the way her past shaped her reactions in the present, elevating her from a woman on the edge to a woman pushing back after a lifetime of gaslighting. When she faces a defining decision in the final act, my heart broke for her. It’s a terrible dilemma to which there’s no right answer, but I love that Smythe gives her the choice – granting her the agency so often stolen from her and the chance to be a big damn hero, unheard of in a series that has prided itself on moments of bleakly personal horror.

I’ve been impressed by the way Smythe has developed his ideas in each book; and I’m pleased to see The Edge break new ground in a series that runs the risk of being repetitive by design. The result is my favourite Anomaly novel to date, digging deeper into questions of identity and begging the question of whether humanity is truly worth saving. I’m no closer to being able to guess where Smythe will take us in the final book, but I can’t wait to find out.

I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. THE EDGE is released today (February 18th) by HarperVoyager.