Feb 19, 2016: Heretical Edge is an engaging, enjoyable read set in a well thought out and developed world populated largely by excellent characters.
Note: This review was written when the story was up to Chapter 6-03.
Characterization in this story is (largely) one of its strong points. All the main players (and most of the side players) have consistent, clear cut, and realistically flawed personalities that are interesting and play off each other well. The main character Felicity “Flick” Chambers is intelligent, friendly, self-aware, and hits what I consider to be that characterization sweet spot where she straddles the line between competent confidence and occasional arrogance. Add in her burning need to know things and her generally well hidden insecurities and you get a character that’s easy to root for. And her narration has made me laugh out loud more than once. Flick is a well-crafted character and she’s not alone.
Another strong point of Heretical Edge is the worldbuilding. I’ve never seen a magical school quite like Crossroads Academy (although I don’t read a lot of magical school stories, so take that with a grain of salt), and the world it inhabits feels unique. There are familiar creatures like vampires, necromancers and angels, but they’re flavored to match the world around them and they share it with more unique beings like the Heretics. Add in the moral nuances and interplay between the factions (Crossroads is more sinister than initially presented, their rivals at Eden’s Garden are far more complex than the propaganda Sands spouts, and most of the various Strangers are absolutely not the monsters Crossroads paints them as) and you get a truly fascinating Urban Fantasy earth to explore. Also, the Heretics’ weapons are really cool.
One more thing I want to gush about in the tone. For the most part, the story appears pretty light hearted. That general lightness serves to mask that it’s actually a pretty dark tale, and every so often it makes detours into the pits of hell. For example, every time Ammon shows up, or the tearjerking backstories of some of the characters, or the disturbing implications of the Heretic ability to steal powers from their kills (as well as the side effects of said transfer). But even in the face of an undercurrent of horror, Heretical Edge is never bleak. Reading this story is compelling and, very often, fun.
This is not to say that it’s perfect. Heretical Edge definitely has its share of flaws. The initial arc, for example, is probably the weakest section of the story so far. The introduction to Crossroads Academy happens very quickly, and it feels very rushed and not entirely natural. The pace evens out in the second arc, but the story might fail to grab you in the beginning (for me it was the first interlude that made the story something to look forward to).
Another weak point is ironically the same as one of the strong points. Characterization. Most of the characters are as well-crafted as Flick, but some seem comparatively underdeveloped. This stands out all the more in the face of the more developed main cast. At the point in the story this review is being written from, Flick’s teammates Sean and Columbus seem somewhat flat compared to the rest of their group (though this might change in future chapters), and the antagonists of arc 4 (as well as the guy they’re trying to avenge) come across as straw-assholes rather than realistic people.
Some other points that I don’t count as pros or cons, but are worth commenting on:
The cast is heavily weighted towards its female characters. They get the most screen time, the most development, and the most tragic backstories. Most of the underdeveloped and straw-ish characters are male. I personally find this interesting, as the vast majority of stories I enjoy are similarly weighted towards the male cast.
Always take any and all exposition with a grain of salt. Cerulean likes playing around with expectations, and whenever someone (especially someone from Crossroads) exposits anything, the information is rarely entirely accurate.
Some of the material can be disturbing. Pretty much every one of Ammon or his father’s actions are definitely not for the faint of heart.
If you like it when the Big Bad is someone who can understand, a sympathetic person you feel like you could root for under different circumstances, you will be disappointed. The Big Bad of Heretical Edge (perhaps not of the world as a whole, but definitely the BB of Flick’s personal story) is an evil, evil man. I find this kind of refreshing. I read a lot of sympathetic antagonists, and I love them. But it’s nice to have someone I can just hate every so often.
I really like Heretical Edge, and I think you should give it a chance. Updates come on Mondays and Fridays.