(2014) Edward Cox, Gollancz, £20.00, hrdbk, 432 pages, ISBN 978-1-473-20029-6
(2018 reprint) Edward Cox, Gollancz, £8.99 / Can$16.99 / US$12.99, pbk, 436pp, ISBN 978-1-473-20031-9
Wham bam, thank you, ma'am, or maybe in this case I should say 'Van Bam, thank you, Mr. Cox', but moving quickly on from this abuse of David Bowie lyrics, I am glad to say that in the opening pages of The Relic Guild we are straight into the action in 'An Epilogue' entitled 'Doubt and Wonder' as assassin and wild demon, and one of the last of the Genii, Fabian Moor, makes his way through a vast cavern where winged creatures would like to feast on him towards a rendezvous with the fellow leaders of Lord Spiral's armies, all defeated by the Timewatcher and her own army of Thaumaturgists at various colourful locations such as 'the Falls of Dust and Silver' or the 'Burrows of Underneath'. The world believes them dead, killed in battle, and while physically they will soon be gone, their souls will be uplifted thanks to the help of the wizened man in the box known as 'Voice of Known Things' to be there when needed. The battles have been lost, but the war continues and Lord Spiral is playing the long game.
One thing you will gather from that short description is that Cox is good with names places and characters but he also has other strengths not just in giving labels to things, but in creating characters and his own unique worldview. The fast-pacing continues as we encounter Peppercorn Clara, who has blood on her hands literally having clearly killed someone, possibly to save her own life, not that it matters, because she clearly has something about the night about her and might be that rarest of things, a Changeling, with thoughts of being a wolf running through her head, and the blood that runs through her veins is virtually priceless given its magical properties and how essential it can when used in the proper rituals. It might even open doorways that have been closed for decades, it might even bring the dead back to life, or the return of the Genii. Thus, Clara finds herself on the run through the part of the Labyrinth known as Labrys Town with a price on her head, and legendary bounty killer, Old Man Sam, a former member of the disbanded Relic Guild that used to protect the city from the use of magical artefacts, dogging her footsteps and carrying a rifle powered by a power jewel charged up to make a killing shot, and he never misses, but he is not the only one pursuing her, another member of the Relic Guild is on her tail, as well as the police force, and those are just the least of her worries.
Part science-fantasy, part steampunk thriller, part horror novel (just look at way Cox mashes together those old tropes of vampire, zombie and golem, and has the interesting touch of having Van Bam, the current Resident being haunted, or perhaps, possessed, by the abusive ghost of his predecessor), The Relic Guild reads in places like a vividly described high fantasy merged with Victorian penny dreadful 'appenings given its backdrop of trams, rooftops, sewers, back alleys and goods yards and a slightly bumbling police force (why did I think of the Keystone Cops at times?) being drip-fed the merest of information to do the bidding of the Resident who runs Labrys Town and sees the bigger picture.
The plot of The Relic Guild unfolds over twenty chapters, but interspersed between them is a dual-narrative, telling the story of what happened forty years earlier to a previous incarnation of the Relic Guild, from which, sadly, some of the old members of this protective force do not make it into the present, but they certainly are a colourful bunch in both time-frames, especially Hamir the Necromancer.
Cox has written a mighty fine first novel, although it is not perfect, there is maybe too much info-dumping going on, and although it didn't bother me in the slightest, I could easily see that it would bother others, along with the fact that there is no real conclusion here (and why should there be?), as we are clearly in set-up mode and 'to be continued' territory, with perhaps a touch of the 'with one mighty bound [insert name of character here] was free', and there was also perhaps too much familiarity with our world, in one place the empathy, Marney, remembers a lost-love, a poet and musician that she went 'gigging' with, but I can say no more than I was hooked and enjoyed the world that Cox has created and the characters that inhabit it, and look forward to stepping into 'the darkness that leads somewhere else' and see what waits on the other side, not too far away in book two.
See also Allen's take on The Relic Guild.
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