21 March 2017

Review - Relics by Tim Lebbon

Tim Lebbon
Titan Books, 21 March 2017
PB, 384pp

I'm grateful to Titan Books for an advance copy of this.

Beneath the surface of our world, mythological creatures and their artifacts still exist—corrupt people pay fortunes for a sliver of dragon bone, a basilisk's scale, or an angel's wing. Angela Gough is an American criminology student in London whose fiancé Vince disappears, and her investigation leads her into a black market specializing in arcane relics. She meets Mary Rock, a criminal of mythic status who also wants to find Vince… to kill him. Angela and a growing team of adventurers must stop this horrific trade, yet they face a growing menace as the hunted creatures begin to fight back.

I found this a refreshingly different take on urban fantasy. Yes, we're in the heart of the city, and, yes, there are mythological creatures around, but there's no magic - that died years ago - and it's largely, the "monsters" who are the victims here, subjects of a merciless trade in body parts... and worse. So the book's suffused, almost, with a conservationist sensibility: the nymphs, angels, pixies and so on are the last of their kind, hunted almost to extinction and clinging on in dark corners and secret hideaways. That gives the whole book a distinct focus and a shape, as well as reversing the usual assumptions that something nasty's out there, waiting to eat us.

It's an intriguing premise, and Angela is an intriguing - an appealing - hero, drawn into a strange world with rules she can't understand when her boyfriend doesn't come home one night. Looking beyond the obvious explanation, Angela sets out to find him, rapidly getting into a world she never knew existed - a world of little known underground tunnels, of shadows in alleyways, of crime dens in Soho backstreets, strange, shrivelled creatures packaged up for delivery and most of all, of supremely creepy villains. Angela's resourceful and she puts her knowledge of crime to good use, but will it be enough to bring success in her search - or even allow survival in the world of Fat Frederick (NEVER shorten his name!) let alone that of Mary Rock?

Lebbon tells a violent, tension-filled story, the action pretty much continuous - but he also finds time to bring in some nice portrayals of London - the summer London that's almost like an outdoor room, crowds moving comfortably through the parks and streets, oblivious to the seedy yards, abandoned buildings and shadowy watchers... It's all very real and also very readable. And that relaxed, comfortable London is only a mask, a mask that slips in the most gore spattered finale that I've read in ages.

Of course there is a little more to the book than cruel humans hunting down Kin, and I sensed that Lebbon was setting up some tensions among the latter for future books - which I devoutly hope will follow soon - but on the whole it's straightforward, though a couple of characters play an ambiguous role - and even Vince turns out to be less innocent than you'd think.

A good, gripping read. I'd strongly recommend you get in on this series at the beginning.

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