Tim Lebbon is always great at creating new and interesting worlds, and that’s something that always draws the reader into his work, whether it’s a novel or just a short story. One of the main things that is so compelling is the way that he creates his worlds around his characters.
Relics is no exception to this, as we slowly discover a hidden, magical world beneath our own by following Angela, a young woman who has moved to London to get her doctorate in criminology. On the surface Angela and her fiance, Vince, are perfectly average people. She studies most of the day, working on her dissertation, whilst he goes to work travelling around London evaluating houses. However, when Vince fails to respond to any calls or messages and doesn’t come home from work, Angela goes looking for him, and discovers a whole world that she didn’t know existed.
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Using some detective skills that she has picked up from studying criminology, Angela finds out that Vince has been living a lie, that he has a whole other life that he hadn’t told her about. Worse than having a second secret family, a thought that briefly crosses her mind, she enters a world of criminals and London gangsters as she learns of the Kin. Creatures long thought to be myth and legend, the Kin walked the earth thousands of years ago but are now all but extinct. Fairies, Nymphs, Satyrs, and Angels, things that are so alien and mysterious they shatter Angela’s view of the world. And these are just the tip of the iceberg.
Whilst there are a lot of Urban Fantasy novels on the market, stories that merge the magical and the mundane, Relics stands out from a lot of these for just how well it slowly introduces these elements, and for how grounded it feels. There’s no ‘magic’ in the traditional sense, there’s no flying around, or ancient forces, the Kin are simply people. Yes, they might have wings, or blue skin, or be twice the size of a human, but their mystical nature isn’t what’s important in this book. It’s their personalities, their drives. Each one, even those who have a relatively short appearance, feel like well thought out individuals, with their own quirks and flaws, their own goals and desires.
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Angela and Vince don’t feel out of place interacting with these creatures, because Lebbon has gone out of his way to make them understandable. Even one of the villains of the book isn’t really a ‘monster’. They’re clearly mad, and they’re not human, but you can see their warped logic, you can understand their desires. If anything, it’s some of the human characters in the book that prove to be the most monstrous.
Despite all of this wonder and spectacle the book is kept grounded by the central story of Angela’s love of Vince, and her willingness to confront wonders and horrors both in order to find him and save his life. Their love isn’t cheesy or over the top, and it’s not played out like a stereotype. It’s believable, largely thanks to the time that is given over to setting up this relationship in the early parts of the book, rather than jumping straight into telling a story of monsters and mad men.
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Relics proves to be a delight to read: a book that manages to tease out its world and story at a steady and entertaining pace; a book that isn’t afraid to hold back on the fantastical until it has already drawn you in. The characters are real and believable, and you find your opinions on who is and isn’t a good person shift over the course of the narrative, and even come to care about some people that take you by surprise.
With a whole new world cleverly set up, characters that are worth learning more about, and the promise of bigger things to come, Relics is a near perfect start to Angela and Vince’s story, and it is pleasing to know that there’s more to come.