Along the Razor's Edge by Rob J Hayes


Book of the Year 2020 (see all)

"Are we all just monsters waiting for the opportunity to show it?"

This book is going to make you mad. And that’s a good thing.

Meet Eskara Helsene. Ripped from her family as a toddler, educated through torture, conscripted for war, and forced to murder, all before the age of fifteen. And then the real horrors begin. Because Eska becomes a prisoner of war when her kingdom ends up on the losing side of a battle, and so is sent into The Pit, an underground mining prison, buried under thousands of feet of rock. And that’s where our story begins.

"There is pleasure in being numb, in retreating from the world and feeling nothing. It is matched only by the agony of emotion returning."

Eska is a fighter that doesn’t break and won’t quit. This is one of her best assets, but also her most frustrating. She’s been pushed around and hurt for her entire life, so she fights tooth and nail for every inch she can, regardless of whatever odds are stacked against her. But her anger and hatred at the world, and herself, lands her in worse and worse situations. She is prideful, and she is a teenager, and she doesn’t think logically. She is filled with so much rage and seething fury that she will avoid the easy path so as not to show her opponents any sign of weakness. As a reader, it is terribly frustrating. But it is also brilliantly written, as you see the world through her perspective and can understand, if not agree, why she continues her path of troubling decisions.

In another author’s hands, I might have found Eska’s story too grim or too maddening to finish. But Hayes has pulled out all the stops and has created something truly magnificent with this story; I’m a fan of much of his previous work and I can say without hesitation that this is his best book to date.

Why do I think so? Let’s get into it.

"We cling to things, familiar things, not because they are good for us, but because we are scared that the unknown might be worse."

The story structure is set up similarly to Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, in that Eska is an older woman, narrating the story of her youth. We know that Eska survives and overcomes the harrowing tests she faces, but Hayes takes advantage of choosing this type of storytelling because he’s able to pull off quite a few tricks. First, he can have Eska tell about her life in The Pit, but he can also intercut that part of her life with her early years of how she grew up and came to be one of the most powerful Sourcerers in her kingdom. As the book progresses, Hayes ties the lessons learned from Eska’s schooling and human interactions with how she deals with her current state of affairs in the prison. As a result, we gain a better sense of where she is coming from, and why she does the things she does.

"I have always found it strange that people equate having testicles with courage. Threatening a man's balls is often the fastest way to make him cower."

But even more thrilling is the egregious tantalizing that Hayes instills throughout the story. Since Eska is an old woman, she’ll occasionally drop hints of how things will turn out, long before they happen. And there are some jaw-dropping reveals that are snuck in there every chapter or two. For example—and this isn’t real, but it’s of a similar delivery—Eska would narrate, “That morning I was more exhausted than I’ve ever felt… but not as tired as the time I invented time travel with the Mongoose King while doing the Thriller dance. But I’m getting ahead of myself.” Wait, whaaa---?? There are many, many needle-scratch moments that allude to some incredible events down the road. Some happen in this book, but others are only foreshadowed and hopefully addressed in books two and three. There are so many explosive reveals that I don’t know how Hayes is going to pull all these promised story threads together over the next two books, but if he somehow addresses them all, well… color me excited. And all these tidbits and reveals, with a brilliantly written lead and an engaging story overall, show that this is a book that demands to be read in as few sessions as possible.

"Lust is a flame that burns everything it comes in contact with. It consumes until there is nothing left to feed it, and then all that's left behind is ashes and scars on all those it touched."

There are so many aspects of this story that impressed me: fascinating, believable, and deeply flawed characters; a versatile style of storytelling that allows the author to reveal both the past and future to strengthen the present; quotable wisdom and insights that stand on their own; one of the most powerful narrative voices this side of Tomas Piety; a slow-burn method of world-building that reveals unexpected depth; and a white-hot desire to discover what will happen next.

Along the Razor’s Edge will make you mad. It will make you hold your breath, pump your fist, pause and reflect, and swear at 2am. It will do all these things and more, because it is one hell of a great story. For me, it was more than just reading a book. It was an experience.

Review by

All reviews for Rob J Hayes's The War Eternal series

Along the Razor's Edge
The War Eternal #1

No one escapes the Pit.At just fifteen Eskara Helsene fought in the greatest war mankind has ever known. Fought and lost. There is only one place her enemies wo [...]

The Lessons Never Learned
The War Eternal #2

I am the weapon. Eskara is free of the Pit, but far from safe. She is beset by the ghosts of those she has killed, and plagued by the ancient horror that p [...]

From Cold Ashes Risen
The War Eternal #3

The Corpse Queen Comes.Eskara has lost everything. The War Eternal has cost her everything she loves, and the Iron Legion has taken the rest. Y [...]

More Rob J Hayes reviews

It Takes a Thief to Catch a Sunrise

There comes a point in every thief's life where one has to take stock of all that they have achieved. We have stolen almost everything there is worth stealing: Prince H [...]

City of Kings

War makes monsters and corpses of us all. For generations the blooded have ruled the Wilds, cultivating a lawless frontier and bleeding the good folk dry. [...]


In the near future Emotional Transference is the drug of choice.Garrick is a Drone, going to ever-increasing extremes in order to sell the emotions. But he does [...]

Never Die

Ein is on a mission from God. A God of Death.Time is up for the Emperor of Ten Kings and it falls to a murdered eight year old boy to render the judgement of a [...]

Where Loyalties Lie

Everybody knows Captain Drake Morass is only out for himself. As the fires of a dying city burn on a distant shore, Drake sees an opportunity to unite the other pirate Capt [...]

The Fifth Empire of Man

The Pirate Isles are united under Drake Morrass’ flag, but the war has only just begun. There’s still a long way to go before he’s able to call himself Ki [...]


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