I don't know when I brought Edward Cox's The Relic Guild, testament to how great a life we booklovers have in the age of kindle sales. But I do remember how I came to actually read it and that is thanks to book pusher extraordinare Anna Stephens, who was talking it up on Twitter. I searched for the book and found that I already owned it - score!
Obviously, I had to have a look.
My first impression of The Relic Guild was that there was nothing amazing or standout about it but except that I kept clicking next page - which is arguably the most standout quality any book could have.
There was something about Clara, the young woman who finds herself hunted and possessed of magic powers, and her home of Labrys Town that commanded attention. The setting hums with a mix of gothic horror and steampunk-esque technology; I could easily imagine a computer game set there. And Clara is smart and resilient enough to be interesting, but has enough vulnerabilities to feel human and sympathetic.
Cox describes well; what he does even better is to create the right level of tension in the stakes (for me at least).He's also very adroit in knowing how much information to give, ensuring we're neither mystified nor overloaded as to the nature of the eponymous Relic Guild, the perils they face, and the importance of Labrys Town to both. In general, Cox's grasp of storytelling and narrative principles are highly impressive.
Which makes my major problem with this book all the more puzzling. The Relic Guild has two storylines, a then and now, and when the 'then' storyline showed up, it slowed my pace of reading dramatically. The characters and hooks are nowhere near as compelling; it is a long time before I felt like they struggled enough to make me sympathise and wonder what came next. I'm a big fan of split-timeline narratives if done well, but for me this wasn't.
It's a huge shame as this took the book's biggest strength - a quick-paced moreish adventure story - and slowed it down. By around the halfway point I did gain an interest in the past narrative for its own sake but the damage had been done. It did give more depth to the setting's mythos and lore, and helped flesh out the backstory of some of the other major protagonists, but the extra knowledge raised more questions than it answered. Which incidentally mirrors my next biggest problem - an ending that didn't offer enough resolution for my tastes.
These points of disagreement didn't stop me from enjoying The Relic Guild - only from falling in love with it. At its best, this hit all the right buttons for me and felt like a very refreshing change from a fantasy genre that's fixated on psychodrama and darkness. Not that The Relic Guild is happy and fluffy and consequence free, but its focus is action and adventure and discovering a strange world. That focus is what made the book so more-ish to me.
And that's what ultimately I would recommend or not recommend The Relic Guild on. Looking for something that digs at the human soul? Look elsewhere. Looking for a fun adventure read in fantasy's best traditions? Then The Relic Guild might be what you were looking for.