BOOK REVIEW: THE RELIC GUILD / AUTHOR: EDWARD COX / PUBLISHER: GOLLANCZ / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Once, the Labyrinth was a great meeting place, when humans traded with the Houses of god-like beings known as the Aelfir. Forty years ago, there was a terrible war; one fought with magic that ruined everything. The Labyrinth became more a prison than city, trapping its human denizens behind hundred-feet-high walls, and it was deemed that all magic was forbidden. Now, forty years later, the battle commences anew as an evil Thaumaturgist is returned to life. Only a legendary band of heroes, the Relic Guild, has the power to stand in this man’s way.
Debut author Edward Cox takes this central concept and places it in a world that is almost Victorian in nature, creating an exciting blend of steampunk, fantasy, horror, and pulp adventure. His world is incredibly detailed, but it never threatens to take over the narrative; in fact, what happened decades ago have a bearing on the present, so much, so that Cox takes both timelines and weaves them together to form the plot of his first novel. He does it well, but there are times when it’s hard to tell them apart – put the book down mid-chapter, for instance, and it may be difficult to immediately recall which era you’re in when you pick it up again.
The book starts with a prologue that initially feels like the author is shouting “look, here’s my bad guy, isn’t he powerful and nasty” but as the pages turn, that introduction becomes more relevant. After that, we’re straight into the action, where a shapeshifter known as Clara is being pursued by two rival bounty hunters. Clara is described as the book’s protagonist, but she spends much of it as an observer, our eyes and ears in the strange new world she has discovered, and other characters often come across as far more interesting, which is testament to Cox’s writing talent.
Cox avoids the fantasy cliché of characters being little more than their occupations or particular field of expertise, and the format of past and present allows the reader to see how much some of them have changed and developed, and why. Even the Relic Guild themselves are prepared to commit heinous acts in the name of good and, while this doesn’t put them on a par with the book’s Big Bad, it will have the reader wondering just how far some of them are prepared to go to achieve victory.
Sometimes, the author’s inexperience shows – pacing can be haphazard sometimes, and dialogue can occasionally turn into exposition – but The Relic Guild is an intriguing, original and enjoyable book, a daring mix of genres that initially feels like it shouldn’t work, but is ultimately greater than the sum of its parts.