When I first saw the cover for ‘The Relic Guild’. I immediately wanted to read the book. There’s an image of a labyrinth filled with strands of magic and an eye that stares right at you no matter from what angle you’re looking at it. An interesting font (yes I do notice these things) and a good colour scheme sealed the deal so, before even reading the blurb, this made it onto the ‘to read’ pile.
The story is set in a town called Labrys, which is at the centre of an enormous labyrinth. Once upon a time, this labyrinth held portals that connected thousands of worlds together, worlds belonging to the Aelfir. The Timewatcher, a powerful Thaumaturgist, created the labyrinth and Labrys town as a neutral ground for the Aelfir to trade, hoping to promote alliances and peace throughout realms known for their constant warring. It worked for a time, but when some of the Timewatcher’s people turned rogue, calling themselves the Genii, there was a war like no other. Now Labrys is cut off, the portals are sealed and the realms of the Aelfir are closed to them. Yet someone or something seems to have found a way through and, despite being inactive for the last 40 years, it’s up to the Relic Guild to sort it all out.
I read a lot of fantasy novels and I’m used to things following the same patterns so, when I find something completely new, I’m delighted. ‘The Relic Guild’ does contain many familiar ideas – the ragtag band of misfits who have to save the world from evil, the mysterious guide that provides cryptic assistance and the use of portals to travel to other realms – but where it shines is in the unique details it adds to these.
First of all, setting this in an isolated town at the centre of a labyrinth is pretty neat. Labyrinths have a solid place in mythology and they’re already linked in my mind with excitement and adventure because you never know what may lie around the next corner. Also, the story of Theseus and the minotaur is an old favourite. Cox adds to this mysterious setting with some beautiful place names for the realms of the Aelfir that now lie just out of reach. Who wouldn’t want to visit ‘Green Sky Forest’, the ‘Floating Stones of Up and Down’, ‘Ghost Mist Veldt’ or the ‘Tower of the Skywatcher’? I’ll probably avoid the creepy emptiness of the ‘Nothing of Far and Deep’ when I take my tour though… There’s also my personal favourite, the Retrospective, a place I’d not like to visit but the idea of which I am totally enamoured with. I’ll leave the details of that one for you to discover when you read the book.
The plot takes place 40 years after the Great War with the Genii ended, in a Labrys town that is isolated and pretty grim. It’s almost Victorian in its style but with added touches of magic. We follow a young prostitute named Clara, who falls in with the now ageing Relic Guild and works with them to try and unravel the mystery surrounding some unusual deaths. There’s also a second story thread set at the end of the war, where we learn about the events that led to the demise of the Genii and the battles that took place. I’m not always a fan of the dual timeline type of story but it works pretty well here. I did have to check a few times which time period I was in, with the same characters in both threads it was a little tricky at times, but only after I’d put the book down and come back to it later on. There’s a good deal of mystery and quite a few creepy bits in the story and it kept me entertained the whole way through. I enjoyed trying to figure out where things would go next and how the characters would solve particular problems, but rarely managed to get to the solutions before the book presented them so it wasn’t too predictable.
There are a lot of unanswered questions by the end of ‘The Relic Guild’. We’re teased with information that hints at things that might come to pass and then left wondering how that might fit in later on. Some people might find this annoying but I enjoyed considering these titbits of information. It is only book one in a series (a trilogy I think) and if everything was clear by the end of it I think I’d be disappointed. As it is, it just makes me look forward to the next instalment so I can find out more!
If you’re looking for a fantasy with plenty of original ideas, where the world is detailed and dark, where the characters intrigue and delight and where the plot draws you in and takes you on a magical journey then I think I’ve found the book for you. Edward Cox’s debut novel, ‘The Relic Guild’ is a real page-turner of a book and I’m already impatient for the next book in the series.
(pub: Gollancz. 400 page paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-47320-031-9)
check out website: www.orionbooks.co.uk