I love picking up a book on the strength of a recommendation, and finding out once you’ve gotten into it that it’s much deeper and darker and marvelous than you first anticipated. This is what happened when I read Tim Lebbon’s supernatural thriller, Relics.
It started out as a well written but somewhat familiar amateur detective story: Angela, an American studying criminology in London, is alarmed when her boyfriend Vince goes missing and decides to look for him. The writing was crisp, with just enough detail, and both characters were well drawn, their relationship being just the right mix of new love and mature expectations. I settled in for what I expected to be a well spun tale of intrigue and espionage, with plenty of unexpected danger thrown in.
Well, there was plenty of intrigue and lots of danger, but I was delighted to find out that Relics was more than your garden variety whodunit. Oh, it followed that path for a while, with Angela discovering that Vince apparently had another life of which she had been completely unaware, with indications that something dire was afoot. But when given more insight into just what that life entailed, well, that’s when I sat up and really started taking notice.
And my piqued interest didn’t wane until I had devoured the entire book.
It turns out the reason Vince had hidden a part of his life from Angela is because it barely falls within the realm of the believable: along with being a mundane property assessor, he tracks down artifacts – relics – that are in demand on an arcane black market, artifacts that are fantastical and supernatural in nature. And very, very rare. And very, very valuable.
The deeper Angela digs – despite being warned away by cryptic messages that may or may not have come from Vince himself – the more her steady, understandable world is rocked to its core. As she is drawn deeper into the cutthroat and vicious London underground, she learns that there is far, far more to the world than she could ever have expected – and that there is far, far more to her than she could have ever have anticipated.
Angela’s development, especially, grounds this book. She must not only continually evaluate the extent she will put herself in harm’s way for someone who is both familiar and a stranger and to whom her emotional connection is suspect, but also find within herself the strength to refuse to compromise when faced with adversity and intimidation. Indeed, many of the characters in Relics, human or not, eschew the cookie cutter treatment despite belonging (in name at least) to stereotypical tropes – a welcome respite from typical fare rising out of the fantasy genre.
In fact, Relics is a book that very skillfully balances a myriad of conflicting forces: the fantastical and the mundane, healing forces and those that default to torture, the power of mercy and malevolence, the pull of wonder and greed. Mr. Lebbon is equally at home writing about detective methods, crime bosses, and mythical forces held in abeyance underneath our everyday world. Whether you are into crime thrillers, suspense novels, detective tales, or stories of the mystical and miraculous, this is a book you will definitely want to check out.