The Relic Guild by Edward Cox

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The Relic Guild by Edward Cox

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Debut book in an epic fantasy series set in a dystopian world. It's illuminated by flashes of originality (and you don't say that every day about fantasy) but some complain as it leaves us with more questions than answers. But isn't that what series debuts are for?
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: September 2014
Publisher: Gollancz
ISBN: 978-1473200296

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The Genii War was so devastating that now, 40 years later, the world is a dismally different place. The Labyrinth, once a hub permitting access to unlimited locations is now a prison. The police, under the control of the Resident and his especially enabled Relic Guild, maintain order. The war may have left lasting reverberations but at least the Genii have been destroyed. If they hadn't been, combine their malevolent presence with the fact that the Relic Guild is not as strong in numbers as it once was and things would have worsened considerably. Errrr… Labrys, we have a problem!

Edward Cox was bored as a schoolboy, thank goodness! The reason for my glee being that he spent lessons writing stories rather than listening. These stories then led to a degree in creative writing. (Ok, so he did pay enough attention to qualify for university.) That, in turn, eventually led to this, his first fantasy novel and a very interesting novel at that, apparently splitting us fantasy fans between 'Marvellous!' and 'Meh!' Me? I'm veering towards marvellous (so to speak) and will proceed to explain why.

I adore fantasy but sometimes I feel as if I'm visiting a slight variation of the same world over and over. Give me the right story populated by the right companions and I don’t mind a jot. However, Edward doesn't just give us the story and characters, at times he took me somewhere I didn't recognise and hauled me in as easily as a goldfish in a tea strainer.

The atmosphere is Dashiell Hammett meets Bladerunner with a touch of Fifth Element; we're not only shown what a dark seedy place the Labyrinth is now, but via neatly inserted chapters we go back to visit in its heyday before the hub was sealed. The hub? Imagine doors that can go to any universe, planet or place and you can see the possibilities that the author has opened up for himself. Some say that Edward doesn't utilise it fully but this is only the first book. The opportunities are indeed there – even the home planet of the deity is dangled before us as a teaser.

Yes, we meet a living, light-auraed deity who adds a bit of sunshine to the proceedings. Everyone else harbours a past, a secret or a combo of both and, again, it's all enticing stuff.

Take the goodies – the Resident and Relic Guild. In fact we meet two Residents; 40 years ago it was Gideon the Selfless who is more of a cynical grump than his epithet would suggest. In the present, facing the left-over mess is the oddly named Van Bam complete with metal plates over his unseeing eyes. The name is a little off-putting (anyone else old enough to remember that song by The Sweet?) but I rate him highly. We haven't completely lost the wonderfully sarcastic Gideon though: the Residents have an interesting mentorship programme.

The Relic Guild (organisation, not novel) may indeed be a shade of its former self but its members still have ability. Sam, the Bounty Hunter (yes, that reminds some of us enough of something to be able to sing that too!) is almost a septuagenarian and surprised he's lasted this long considering his lifestyle. His gift of prescience kind of helps though. Marney is an empath who disappears early on but we still see her regularly in the chapters from the past, and what a past she has!

Hamir, the necromancer, is the lab-based 'Brains' of the outfit whose interest is more in science than personal safety. (I dare you not to shout 'Run!' at least once as we surge towards the cruelly cliff-hanging climax.) And then there's the illustratively named whore, Peppercorn Clara who is a changeling and we all know what they say about changeling blood. (If you don't then that's another originality point to Mr Cox.)

Where there are goodies, there are baddies – the Genii. I started off feeling drawn to them, especially Fabian Moor and his sardonically satisfying sense of humour but by the end they (and he in particular) scared me rigid.

By the way, there are undead and much gore plus some inventive ways of killing so weak stomach owners may wish to look away.

At times we're assailed by names and terms. I still can't tell you what a Thaumaturgist actually is and which side the Aelfir are on. However, once again it's great to come away from a first-in-series wondering while realising we've been on an adventure rather than having spent a whole book being explained at. If I still don't know what a Thaumat... what I just said… is by the end of the second book, then I shall start to worry.

At the moment, I'm totally worry-free; Edward Cox writes one heck of a scary, intriguing ride and right now I'm finding it rather moreish.

(Thank you, Golancz for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If you'd like to continue the dark dystopian vibe, look no further than the book on which Bladerunner was based. If you're more drawn to fantasy with a scare attached, we also recommend The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones.

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