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Review of ‘The Relic Guild’ by Edward Cox

18 September, 2014

It’s true I’ve been a bit short on writing time lately, but I have been squeezing in a fair amount of reading – and after getting my hands on a shiny new copy of ‘The Relic Guild’ through a Goodreads giveaway, I was eager to review it.

First of all, a confession: I have a real weakness for novels that take place in unusual settings, so ‘The Relic Guild’ was never going to have a hard time drawing me in. Whilst fantasies set in single cities are becoming increasingly common, Labrys Town is something apart, situated in the centre of an endless labyrinth, and apparently a realm in its own right. Once a hub of trade and travel, connected to hundreds of other worlds – the Houses of the Aelfir – it’s now been cut off by war, leaving it isolated and apparently abandoned by all but the humans trapped within its walls. Except Labrys Town’s old enemies aren’t as dead and gone as everyone seems to think, and they certainly haven’t forgotten their past foes.

Taking place across two timelines, forty years apart, ‘The Relic Guild’ relates both the first war and the re-emergence of those enemies thought banished. We see the Relic Guild itself, both in its prime and in its ‘present day’, much diminished form. Multiple characters appear in both narratives, and the two arcs run parallel courses, intertwining rather than one simply being used as an excuse to provide backstory. Both are equally compelling, too, and I found myself eager to get back to each timeline as chapters ended – if not always on cliffhangers, then at least on points of tension.

It helps, of course, that there wasn’t a single character in the novel that I disliked. There’s a certain creepiness about the villains, of course, particularly towards the end, but I found each equally fascinating – and whilst there are numerous heroes, each felt well-rounded and distinct from the others. It seems a little unfair to pick out favourites from such a large and diverse cast, in which each member of the Relic Guild has their own particular role to play, but I found myself warming to Marney and Samuel, whilst the necromancer Hamir – though appearing only infrequently – seemed to have by far the most intriguing secrets left to reveal. (On a side note, I was also pleased to find so many female characters in the book, from protagonists and villains, to women who appear for a single scene before meeting a sticky end; too many fantasy worlds, after all, seem to have populations that are 90% male, judging by the named characters and ‘spear-carriers’ in their pages.)

Plot-wise, ‘The Relic Guild’ starts and ends well, but does flounder a little in the middle, as the key characters are forced back and forth across the city with the enemy always one step ahead. The two parallel timelines also work against the otherwise decent pace of the novel: because of their interwoven nature, and the way the story jumps between them, it takes a long time to get any answers from each of the two strands. Still, the prose is rarely wordy and focuses on moving the story on, meaning I found myself turning pages surprisingly quickly for such a chunky book.

On the subject of plot, though, a warning: here lie cliffhangers, and big ones. Neither of the two narratives has reached anything like a resolution by the end of the book, and whilst both have reached suitable stopping points, there’s definitely a feeling that there’s a lot more left to come (and big, important stuff too, judging by how much has to happen to finally connect the timelines together). If you can take the wait for a sequel, however, ‘The Relic Guild’ is certainly worth your time, bringing together an intriguing setting, likeable characters and some enjoyable weirdness that suggests the story’s only just getting started.

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