On The Edge, Jane Jesmond’s debut novel, is the first instalment of a thriller series following Jen Shaw, an adrenaline-seeking climber. After being mysteriously called back to her hometown by her brother, Jen finds herself dangling off a lighthouse. Initially blaming the incident on a drug relapse, she begins to suspect that someone from her past might want her dead.
The highlight of this book is its frightening setting. Set in a cold and wet seaside town in Cornwall, the author succeeds in creating a mysterious, yet suitably realistic town, with every eerie detail seemingly concealing an imminent danger. While it might be easy to roll your eyes at the ‘it was a dark and stormy night’ setting, Jesmond describes the town with such skill that it is impossible to not be transported into the story. The reader is perfectly set up for the story from the very first chapter: long before meeting each of the characters, the looming lighthouse establishes a tone of impending doom, reflected in the conflicts faced by each of the characters.
The protagonist’s inner turmoil is rooted in regret: after a horrific accident while climbing, Jen is blamed, and made promise to never indulge her passion again. She is torn, between guilt for her actions and the soul-crushing realization that she will never experience that thrill again. The theme of unfulfilled destinies runs throughout the novel, as the prevailing atmosphere of the town is one of inescapable unhappiness caused by external forces.
While the descriptive language used for the setting is undoubtedly effective, the relationships fall short. On The Edge feels too much like an introduction to a story, rather than a true exploration of human interactions. In particular, the dynamic between Jen and Nick Crawford, beautifully set up when Nick lends Jen his car after finding her alone in the storm, was not explored to its fullest potential, especially in the middle of the story. Jen interacts with many people from her past, so having a more consistent contact with Nick could have provided an interesting outside perspective into her life. This would have also made the resolution more impactful since the conflicts often stem from family drama.
One aspect of Jen’s characterization that felt intriguing was how her internal monologue differs from how others treat her. She sees herself as a failure, while those around her continue to lean on her for support. Despite her addiction, she remains a point of reference to those in her life. Jen’s charisma and influence becomes especially relevant towards the end of the book, when the main antagonist is finally unveiled. Throughout the novel this reveal was set up through clear hints, which is always a double-edged sword: on one side, the audience gets to play detective, without being purposefully misinformed; on the other, fans of the genre will quickly be able to guess who is behind Jen’s persecution. Nonetheless, it makes for an engaging finale that suits the tone of the novel.
Overall, Jesmond’s debut novel is well-told and engaging, with the descriptive language used in the setting being particularly memorable. On The Edge is an exciting first instalment in a series that is only bound to get better.
Words by Elisabetta Pulcini
Want more Books content from The Indiependent? Click here