A book that passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. All the important characters are women and the guy who would be a love interest in any other telling of this story only appears sporadically and only gets a couple kisses near the end. Maybe it’s just the circles I run in, but it seems if you want good genre fiction led by women characters, look no further than steampunk. Although, this book is like steampunk’s weird cousin.
The Razor’s Edge posits a strange world that took me a little bit of time to get used to. It’s our world – there are mentions of Mythbusters and computers and cell phones, but there are also Arcana. In Mr Llewelyn’s world, Arcana are essentially Thursday Next-level puns that describe items in the world. For example, Occam’s Razor is the strongest razor in the world – there’s nothing it can’t cut. Lorenz’s Butterfly is an actual butterfly that can shape events across the world (you know that saying – a Butterfly flaps its wings and there’s a hurricane on the other side of the world). Our main character is Ms Zelda Pryce, a woman who’s an arcana prodigy and has built herself a number of arcana and a business as a security consultant breaking into various museums to help them improve their security. During one such job she meets an actual thief. In another novel they’d be a slap slap kiss couple, but instead they tussle and leave on amiable terms. Meanwhile, the plot thickens in semi-predictable ways.
Other characters – Zelda’s sister who places a somewhat Oracle role (as in what Barbara Gordon did until the 2011 reboot gave her use of her legs again). They have what seems like a pretty realistic sisterly relationship – looking out for each other and also sometimes annoying each other. Inspector Yasmin Demir who ends up being a primary character along with Zelda for most of the novel. A badass woman who rose up the ranks of the DCRI (or something like that) in France despite being a woman and (based on a couple throwaway lines) I’m pretty sure also a lesbian. The main villain Ophelia Martel who is impressive in her own right – an activist who has been jailed many times for her principled stance. Although, true to antagonist form, she chooses an anti-social way of dealing with her disappointment.
This book is part of a series, so it’s no surprise or spoiler that Ms Pryce does not die at the end of this book. In fact, the book ends with her having Chinese food in her apartment with her sister.
If you’re a reader you’ll be able to guess most of the plot or at least not be terribly surprised by what’s going on. Ms Pryce is also a little less introspective than I’d prefer, but not too bad. I was waffling between a 3 and 4 star rating, but given all the great stuff I’ve mentioned above, I went with the higher rating.
Who would I recommend this to? It has a bit of a YA vibe or, at least, it’s not as surprising or introspective as it could be. That said, I’m a guy in my mid-30s and I found it pretty entertaining. I would say if you have a kid or teen who’s really geeky they’d really enjoy it because a lot of the fun was associating the puns with the real-life people or terminology (like Laplace’s Demons) that I know from philosophy class and rhetoric. (That said there’s a glossary in the back) Again, the guy and girl don’t sleep together and the “dirtiest” thing is an obscure reference to a dick joke that if you understand it, are probably old enough to get it. So definitely good for any girls in your life who need or want a female protagonist who doesn’t need a man to save her (although it doesn’t hurt to team up with one on your own terms) or any boys for whom you want to model that it’s great for women to be independent and awesome.