|Cover by Julia Lloyd|
Titan Books, 25 June 2019
I'm grateful to Titan Books for a free advance copy of The Edge. This is the third and final part of Lebbon's Relics trilogy. In the first book, Relics, he introduced us to an urban fantasy world where shady dealers trade in the remnants - relics - of long-dead mythological creatures. Unicorn horn is the least of it. Think pixie tongues, dwarf hearts, fairy eyes... But what if they weren't long dead?
What if some were recently alive?
What if some were still alive?
Introducing chancer Vince and his heedless wife Angela, who also appear in sequel The Folded Land, Lebbon showed how the beauty and terror of the creatures known as The Kin lurks behind our own bland world - and how Angela's and Vince's lives are changed forever once they discover this.
Both Relics and The Folded Land are complex, intricate stories following different factions among the Kin, and the humans who would exploit them. Some of the Kin want to hunker down and stay safe, others to rise up. Humans variously want to profit from Kin relics, wonder ate their beauty - or eat them. Often it's hard to tell who wants what, who is on whose side, with plenty of double dealing and guilt.
In The Edge, Lebbon tells a simpler story, rounding everything off. It's a more pared down book than either of its forerunners, bringing us back to the experiences and struggles of a few central characters. There is Mallian the Nephilim, a powerful being who wants the Kin to struggle for power - "Ascent" - and tread down impudent humans. There is Grace, the fairy Malliam sought to control but who turned on him. And there is Angela, Vince and Angela's niece Sammi, who was affected by an attack by Grace which has left her with developing abilities.
Much of the ambiguity of the previous books is gone, and we know where we stand, which gives Lebbon more bandwidth (so to speak) to tell the story these books were, perhaps, always about - the love between Angela and Vince, what they have lost, and what they still have. We saw in Relics, especially, what Vince meant to Angela. Now she has lost him twice - Folded land saw him stranded in Grace's pocket universe, ironically alongside Mallian, whose dreams he helped destroy. Can she find him again? And if she does, can she keep him, at a time when great sacrifices may be required to face down the threat of Mallian? Living as a fugitive, Angela has also lost the ordinary life she had and, following Grace's attack, her sister. And teenage Sammi feels herself changing, which is also a loss of sorts.
There is a real sense here, as the endgame commences, of unfinished business. Lebbon gives us a new character, Bone, who as a boy was driven from his home town of Longford when the army gassed and flooded it. Bone has secrets, and has spent his life hunting the Kin. Mallian, obviously, has his own plans. Grace finds herself distracted from the Folded Land that she created. And out there is a government agency which has the Kin in its sights.
As I said, this is a simpler story, with less of a feeling of "what's going on?" but that is amply compensated for by a narrative drive, a feeling of coming disaster, of ending and a really fast pace. The story drives onwards, blurring the boundaries between fantasy and thriller as the Kin seem about to come out into the open and challenge the humans - who have taken over their world - to respond.
All through these books I've been struck by Lebbon's ability to depict the horror both of what are often, literally, cruel monsters, horrors from our darkest dreams and the chaos and devastation wrought by humanity on the natural world. That's symbolised here by the town of Longford and its fate, as it was in The Folded Land by the destruction of a forest where a tree-spirit sheltered. Conflict between the two seems wired into the nature of reality, but what will be the result if the Kin fight back seriously?
A satisfying ending to the series overall, an exciting book - and do I see Lebbon leaving himself a way out, perhaps, to further stories?